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Faulkner Sightings

Report a Faulkner Sighting!

Unlike famous fellow Mississippian Elvis Presley, William Faulkner is probably more likely to be cited than sighted. But like The King, Faulkner is still very much a part of our collective memory and often acts as a point of reference in pop culture venues like movies and television shows.

For example, the 1992 movie Barton Fink is thought by many to contain numerous references to Faulkner's life. The character of the Southern novelist turned screenwriter, W. P. Mayhew, resembles Faulkner in that he "whores" himself to Hollywood, drinks a great deal, and has an affair while living in CA. And Barton Fink himself has something in common with Faulkner; both were asked to write a "wrestling picture." It helped that the actor who played Mayhew (John Mahoney) bore a striking resemblance to Faulkner. Joel Coen, who co-wrote the film with his brother, Ethan, claimed, "[John Mahoney] really does resemble Faulkner, physically. . .Although, the character in Barton Fink, obviously--outside of the physical resemblance and the fact that he's an alcoholic--he really doesn't resemble Faulkner very much in any other respect." We should hope not--one of the subplots of the movie revolves around the fact that Mayhew isn't really a writer at all. His secretary is the creative genius behind his famous name. And Faulkner didn't even have a secretary in Hollywood. Or did he????

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In the Acknowledgements to his novel A Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James mentions Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying as a possible inspiration (each chapter in James’ novel is narrated by a different character). Writing of his difficulties with starting the novel, James notes: “The problem was that I couldn’t tell whose story it was. Draft after draft, page after page, character after character, and still no through line, no narrative spine, nothing. Until one Sunday, at W.A. Frost in St. Paul, when I was having dinner with Rachel Perlmeter, she said what if it’s not one person’s story? Also, when last did I read Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying?” (687). (submitted by Hugh Ruppersburg)

The Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters selected The Past is Never by Tiffany Quay Tyson as its winner of the 2019 award for fiction. Tyson is a native of Jackson, Mississippi, and her novel is a family saga set in the Mississippi Delta.

Sean Carswell’s 2019 novel Dead Extra references Faulkner’s Sanctuary when some of the characters meet a scriptwriter named Bill in the 1940s in L os Angeles.

A group of “Mississippi Pilgrims” traveled from Oxford to Boston to find the plaque commemorating Quentin Compson’s death on the Anderson Memorial Bridge.

The story of Faulkner’s involvement with satirical publications mocking segregation is told in this 2019 article in Atlas Obscura.

The Mississippi Writer’s Trail

In the documentary Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, the band’s lead singer, Geddy Lee, can be see reading a copy of The Sound and the Fury during an airplane trip. (submitted by Wes Martin)

The University of Mississippi Slavery Research Group has found information about enslaved peoples who lived on the site of what later became Faulkner’s Oxford home, Rowan Oak.

Country rocker Sturgill Simpson released a new album in 2019 called Sound and Fury, which may or may not be a Faulkner reference.

In the Cheers episode “Personal Business” (Season 2, Episode 3, 1992), Diane is waiting on a table and says to the customers, “Dylan Thomas, Delmore Schwartz, Fitzgerald, Faulkner . . . they all virtually drank themselves to death, gone before their time . . . so can I get you another round? (submitted by Kristi Rowan Humphreys)

Gavin Stevens and Atticus Finch are contrasted by attorney and law professor Randy Gordon in a column for The Dallas Morning News.

On Saturday Night Live (season 42, episode 8), the episode opens with Aidy Bryant teaching a high-school literature class. She begins the scene by saying, “And that is another example of how Faulkner influenced Latin-American literature.” (submitted by Kristi Rowan Humphreys)

J.J. Murphy’s novel Murder Your Darlings (2011) is an Algonquin Round Table mystery in which the chief murder suspect of one of Dorothy Parker’s guests is William Faulkner.

“Faulkner, Interracialism and Popular Television,” a course at Harvard University taught by Linda Chavers in 2018 pairs the works of Faulkner and television writer-producer Shonda Rhimes.

Bruce Jentleson invokes Faulkner in a 2020 commentary on US foreign policy, “Burying and Unburying History: American Strategy in a Faulknerian World.”

In the pilot episode of the Netflix series You, Joe Goldberg is working in a bookstore. As he watches a customer shop for a book, he says to himself, “You search the books. Fiction F through K. Now, you’re not the standard insecure nymph hunting for Faulkner you’ll never finish.” (submitted by Kristi Rowan Humphreys)

In 2019, a 30-minute Faulkner documentary was produced by the University of Mississippi Journalism School.


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Center for Faulkner Studies
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