When I wrote the first of this series on Influential Authors back in March, I wrote about a southern black man named Frank Yerby. Today, I am writing about another, far more celebrated southern author, William Faulkner. From his wiki:
William Cuthbert Faulkner (born Falkner, September 25, 1897 – July 6, 1962), also known as Will Faulkner, was an American writer and Nobel Prize laureate from Oxford, Mississippi. Faulkner worked in a variety of written media, including novels, short stories, a play, poetry, essays and screenplays. He is primarily known and acclaimed for his novels and short stories, many of which are set in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, a setting Faulkner created based on Lafayette County, where he spent most of his life, and Holly Springs/Marshall County.
Faulkner is one of the most important writers in both American literature generally and Southern literature specifically. Though his work was published as early as 1919, and largely during the 1920s and 1930s, Faulkner was relatively unknown until receiving the 1949 Nobel Prize in Literature. Two of his works, A Fable (1954) and his last novel The Reivers (1962), won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. In 1998, the Modern Library ranked his 1929 novel The Sound and the Fury sixth on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century; also on the list were As I Lay Dying (1930) and Light in August (1932). Absalom, Absalom! (1936) is often included on similar lists.
Now I admit that I have not read anywhere near all of Faulkner’s work. I remember having to read Sartoris my senior year in high school and writing a paper on it (which is currently stuck away in a storage locker or I might pull it out and quote myself a bit!) I know I have read The Sound and the Fury and Absalom, Absalom but Faulkner wrote many other books and short stories.
Writing these diaries, I wind up being surprised with just about every author and Faulkner is no exception in the surprise department. I was well aware of his Pulitzer Prizes and his Nobel Prize for Literature. But I was not as aware, if I ever knew at all, about his time, credited and uncredited, as a screenwriter. Check out his page at IMDB and you might be surprised as well. One online bio of Faulkner puts it this way:
Howard Hawks reached out to William Faulkner for screenwriting help. Faulkner had a hand in creating the script for the film versions of Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not and Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. During his sojourns to Hollywood, William Faulkner would also become an intimate to Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart.
Despite his critical acclaim, William Faulkner book sales dwindled during World War II. As many of Faulkner’s books went out of print, he relied more heavily on his screenwriting as a means of support.
Now, I love both To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep as movies. I knew the former was from Ernest Hemingway and the latter was from Raymond Chandler but was not aware that Faulkner had written the screenplays. Think about that for a minute – two truly great writers getting “help” from yet another great writer to bring the works to the screen. Then look once again at Faulkner’s IMDB (linked above) and see some of the movies where he is an uncredited screenwriter – Gunga Din, Drums Along the Mohawk, Mildred Pierce, Adventures of Don Juan. Classic books. Classic movies. Classic literature.
I’m going to end this diary with a “quick” note about a Paul Newman (pun intended) movie I’ve enjoyed over the years that is based on multiple Faulkner short stories. While the stories have also been made into a TV movie and even a TV series, the original movie is well worth watching if you’ve never seen it – The Long, Hot, Summer with Orson Welles, Joanne Woodward, Lee Remick, Anthony Franciosa, and Angela Lansbury. If you know the movie, you will most likely remember the name of Newman’s character.
Photo from Carlos Almendarez licensed under Creative Commons