IN SEARCH OF FAULKNER
by Tom Fisher
William Faulkner + Elderhostel + beautiful Oxford, Mississippi--here's a recipe for a successful vacation for USADEEPSOUTH's [ahem] more mature readers. According to Tom Fisher, you'll end up having a most delightful week.
A couple summers ago, my wife Lil and I attended a William Faulkner Conference in Oxford, Mississippi, as part of a 28 person Elderhostel delegation. We drove from our home in Indiana down through southern Illinois, Missouri, and Arkansas, arriving in Oxford on a Sunday morning. We stayed on the campus of Ole Miss (University of Mississippi) at the Alumni Center Hotel, and all of the Faulkner meetings were on the campus.
This was our first Elderhostel trip, so we didn't have any benchmarks for comparison; however, several people in the group had gone on other Elderhostel outings and the consensus seemed to be that this was one of the better ones.
The accommodations were excellent, and the meals were, for the most part, adequate. The conference itself was about what I expected. Most of the presentations were of "a scholarly nature" (read, "very esoteric and dry!") but, in the main, I felt I learned a great deal about the life and times of William Faulkner. Lil, my writer-wife, was in seventh heaven through all of these proceedings. We had made a trip to England four years earlier where, among other things, we attended an A.E. Housman Centenary celebration in Ludlow. The format of the Faulkner gathering reminded me a lot of the Housman meeting.
I enjoyed meeting lots of new people and seeing the sights around Oxford. I can't imagine a more beautiful setting for such an event than the Ole Miss campus.
One curious observation was probably due to my having gotten used to exchanging e-mail with friends and associates. This is, of course, old hat with us who have become accustomed to e-mail and the Internet. I guess we sometimes erroneously assume that the whole world does e-mail. Not so, as I found out with several of the Elderhostel folks. Not only are some of them NOT into computers, e-mail, the Internet, etc., they don't seem to want any part of it. I caught myself wanting to "sell and lecture" a time or two--only to realize that some people just don't want this kind of thing. I remember making these same observations at the Housman conference in England.
I had been briefed by a friend about the Square Bookstore which is located on the square in downtown Oxford. I certainly agree with everything I had been led to expect about this bookstore. It is as fine an independent bookstore as can found anywhere. I don't think I have ever seen a more concentrated selection of famous and noteworthy works. Lil actually found a couple of books she hadn't been able to locate elsewhere.
We attended several cocktail and yard parties. Jimmy Faulkner, a nephew of William, was a main fixture at many of these events. We enjoyed meeting and talking with him, and Lil and I were invited, along with a couple of other Elderhostelers to his home in the country one evening. We didn't go as we already had made another commitment--something I not only regretted the next morning but will, undoubtedly, regret forever. Between Jimmy and "Chooky" Faulkner (another nephew), we heard lots of first hand accounts as they told anecdotes based on their many recollections of "Brother Will," (the way they affectionately refer to him even though he was not actually their brother).
Jimmy also accompanied us on a tour of the Oxford cemetery and pointed out the grave sites of many of the people William Faulkner used as models for some of the characters in his writings. We also went on a tour of Oxford and the surrounding area to see sights, buildings, etc., all of which had figured in Faulkner's various novels and short stories.
Within the Elderhostel group, we held a contest based on the annual Faux Faulkner competition. This is a contest wherein writers submit parodies of various Faulkner stories. About eight or ten of us wrote papers and then read them to the group one evening after dinner. Whereas the real Faux Faulkner event is prestigious and comes with a handsome monetary award to the winner, our competition was all in fun and everybody was declared a winner.
The event concluded at noon on Friday, and Lil and I headed back in the direction of Indiana. But I must say, everything we had heard about “southern hospitality” was, in fact, true. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and will always have fond memories of Mississippi.
Write Tom Fisher at this address: Tom Fisher, Purdue University (USA)
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Compliments on this article:
From - Felice Bond of Santa Clarita, Calif.
Message - Hi Tom, Enjoyed your article about the South.
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