Discover southern jewel Oxford, Mississippi
Travels with Deb
Visitors entering Oxford, Mississippi’s historic Square will come nose-to-nose with its famed Courthouse. The stately white building stands in the heart of town, creating a scene that looks like it came right out of one of John Grisham’s legal thrillers. The well-known author is actually one of many writers who lived in Oxford, a town with an impressive literary heritage and more published writers per capita than most big-time American cities. As a state, Mississippi boasts such distinguished wordsmiths as Richard Ford, Willie Morris, Eudora Welty, Donna Tartt, Jesmyn Ward, Larry Brown and Curtis Wilkie. Perhaps the most acclaimed, however, is William Faulkner. Regarded as one of the greatest writers in the twentieth century, Faulkner made Oxford his home after briefly attending the University of Mississippi, and lived in his antebellum-style house, Rowan Oak, from 1930 until his death in 1962.
The Nobel Prize Laureate, who is best known for such novels as, “The Sound and the Fury,” and “As I Lay Dying,” made his mark on the literary scene for his masterful characterization and rich language. He was a skilled storyteller and moved many a reader by his deep probing of the mysteries of human life. While living in Oxford, Faulkner discovered that his “own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about.” He created fictional versions of Oxford and Lafayette County, calling them Jefferson and Yoknapatawpha County, respectively. These locations were used in several of his books, along with a slew of colorful characters, some modeled after actual Oxford residents.
Literary aficionados can visit Rowan Oak to get a glimpse into this special haven that brought Faulkner so much inspiration. Originally known as “The Bailey Place,” the author renamed his estate Rowan Oak after the Rowan tree, a symbol of security and peace. During your self-guided tour, you’ll see the Library, which is decorated with paintings by the writer’s mother, Maud Butler Falkner, an accomplished painter. As an aside, William added the “u” to his name in 1918 for a nom de plume. The bookshelves, built by Faulkner, have locking compartments on the bottom to store his shotgun shells. This was the room the author wrote in until he built his own writing room at the rear of the house. Nearby is the Parlor, the site of many special occasions for the family, and the Dining Room, which leads to a porch and a patio, also a favorite writing spot. Take a peek in the kitchen and pantry. The latter has numerous phone numbers written on the wall near the telephone – Faulkner’s convenient, low-tech directory! The most interesting room on the first floor is the Office/Writing Room, where the plot outline of “A Fable” is written on the wall in Faulkner’s hand. He used graphite pencil and a red grease pencil to set down this working plan of the novel, which is about Holy Week set during WWI.
Upstairs, you’ll find Estelle’s Bedroom, which was Faulkner’s wife’s private space for painting and birdwatching. In Faulkner’s own bedroom, you’ll note a bedside bookshelf with a collection of tomes ranging from biographies to mystery novels, reflecting the author’s varied reading interests. He also enjoyed photography, evidenced by the cameras on the mantel. And his riding boots and field boots remain as testaments of his love for the outdoors. Other rooms are dedicated to his daughter Jill and an assortment of other children in the extended family, who came for visits. Of additional interest is the glass case in the hallway with assorted Faulkner memorabilia, such as writing instruments, a pipe, bottle of Jack Daniel’s, photos and remnants from the author’s Hollywood days as a movie writer.