Faulkner in New Orleans

William Faulkner came to New Orleans early in March 1939 for three days of fishing with local friends. (The Deutches? Hermann was the model for the reporter in his novel Pylon.) Someone from the newspaper spoke with Faulkner at the friend’s home and soon after published an article in the Item on their conversation. He disclosed Faulkner’s opinion that from the South would come the country’s finest art; another Keats would someday emerge. Also, he spoke of the poseur writers and the character of those dedicated to the craft; the unreality of his Hollywood days and a bit about the three-volume novel he was then working on—obviously the Snopes Trilogy. His description of Faulkner is incisive, particularly the emphasis on his eyes.

The complete article follows, thanks to The Historic New Orleans Collection.

Finds South Keeping Up Art Interest: William Faulkner Here Has Good Word For His Homeland

The New Orleans Item, April 5, 1939

William Faulkner, the writer whose books about Southern poor whites and more poor Negroes have pictured Southern decay, degeneration and doom, passed through New Orleans this morning and said quite a few good words for the South.

“The South seems to be the only place in the country that is interested in art these days,” he said at the home of friends who were preparing to take him on a three-day fishing trip. “Maybe it’s because the North is more industrialized than we are. Maybe in 80 years we’ll be as highly industrialized and we’ll quit turning out art.”

Looking for Keats

Faulkner, who’s lived most of his life in the little town of Oxford, Miss., and who still lives there with his wife and 6-year-old daughter, has a picture in his mind of “maybe a Keats coming out of the backwoods, a hardshell Baptist with a celluloid collar and a short tie, who writes good poetry.” He thinks maybe this backwoods Keats will show up one of these days.

Faulkner doesn’t have any hopes for the scores of would-be writers who are living down in the French Quarter, sitting around in cafes and bars nightly talking about what they’re going to write. Faulkner lived in the Quarter himself around 1925, wrote his first published book, “Soldier’s Pay” down there. “But the fellows who are going places are too busy working to sit around and talk about it.”

Not Very Sociable

 Faulkner is a short, delicately built man, with a slender face, medium-sized mustache, and a rather high-pitched voice. His dark black eyes are his strongest feature, and they’re more impressive for their brilliance than their expressiveness. He’s not expressive, demonstrative, or really sociable, and he doesn’t like to talk about writing.

His novels are acute and keen studies of Southern characters, generally drawn from the lower economic levels. They contain a good many horrible and gruesome incidents. “Wild Palms,” his latest book, is really two books. He wrote one story and thought it was good but not enough. So he write [sic] another and slipped the chapters of the two in between each other like shuffling a deck of cards, only not so haphazardly. “I played them against each other,” he said. “Contrapuntally.”

Poor Writer

 It’s interesting to note that he, himself, can’t read his writings sometimes. But that’s only when they’re in manuscript. He writes in an extremely pinched hand which goes back to the days when he had to economize on writing paper. It is even and fine, but to anyone else not only looks like, but is, as unreadable as Greek. He says he can’t read it if he leaves it for a time.

The days when he was a struggling and unknown writer have left a slight touch of bitterness in him. The writing business, “which is a job,” would be all right “if you didn’t have to stop and boil the pot now and then.” He doesn’t consider any of his books pot-boilers, but was alluding to other work he couldn’t bring himself to mention.

Just Tokens

On the other hand, when he was making fabulous sums in Hollywood he wasn’t happy, either. “It ain’t money you make out there. It comes and goes. It’s just tokens.”

He’s now working on a three-volume novel he began in New Orleans 5 years ago. He’d have finished it sooner, but for boiling the pot.

It’s about a poor white who comes to a little Southern town and teaches the populace corruption in government and…. ­­M. A.

 

There was no byline. The M. A. at the end is speculated to be Michael Amrine.

-Joe DeSalvo, owner, Faulkner House Books

 

 

Faulkner_1939_cropped
This photograph accompanied the article in the New Orleans Item.

 

Anthony Beevor’s Ardennes 1944: The Battle of the Bulge, with Some Personal and Literary Reflections

Earlier I wrote that World War II began for me on December 4, 1941, the day before my 9th birthday, when my mother’s younger brother, who lived with us and shared a bedroom with me, was inducted into the army. Three days later, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. These two events awakened in me an unquenchable yearning to understand humanity’s greatest folly. The history of World War II became a reading obsession and the most recent book is Anthony Beevor’s Ardennes 1944: The Battle of the Bulge (2015). I had read his Stalingrad, an exhaustive, illuminating and brilliant history of a bloody and pivotal conflict, the first major setback for the Third Reich. Ardennes 1944 is equally praise-worthy. Two, albeit remote, personal connections and an awareness that three prominent American writers were combatants in the Battle also drew me to Beevor’s latest book.

The German Ardennes offensive surprised our military commanders. The war in Europe, they felt, was virtually over; victory was weeks away. Paris had been liberated and Allied forces were at the Rhine River.

Adolph Hitler, feeling invincible after surviving a botched assassination attempt, was convinced that the alliance of the United States, Britain, Canada and France was fragile and would likely fracture if seriously challenged. To that end, a major force of two Panzer armies, brought to full capacity with older men, younger boys and with units moved from the Russian front, launched a surprise attack through the Ardennes Forest on December 15, 1944. Though the counter-offensive began immediately, within two weeks German tanks and troops had advanced 90 kilometers through the middle of Allied forces, trapping several units.

The 101st Airborne Division, commanded by General Anthony McAuliffe was encircled at Bastogne, Belgium. Though weakened by recent bitter fighting in Holland, it was moved there on December 18th. Four days later a German truce delegation approached General McAuliffe’s Headquarters with an ultimatum: to surrender or face annihilation. The General’s one-word response was “nuts.” Airdrops of critical supplies enabled the Division to maintain its defense until General George Patton’s tanks broke through the enemy lines on December 29th. The next day Patton himself entered Bastogne wearing his trademark pearl-handle pistols.

Soon after the German attack began, my father received a notice to report for an army physical. He was 33, married with three children. He passed the examination and was ordered to report for training on February 1, 1945. I still recall the overwhelming gloom; the worry—how would we manage?—and the fear—mother and I were aware of the enormous casualties, many from the unrelenting frigid weather. Troop replacements were hastily trained younger boys or, like my father, older men.

Near the end of January and after suffering 80,000 casualties, what remained of the two Panzer armies had been pushed back to the German border. The Russian winter campaign had begun and my father’s army induction was canceled. In less then 4 months, Allied armies entered Berlin, Hitler killed himself and Germany surrendered unconditionally on May 8, 1945.

Ten years later, I am a 22-year-old recently commissioned Second Lieutenant in the Military Police Corps at my first duty station, Ford Hood, in Killeen, Texas. General Anthony McAuliffe is the port commander. Late on Sunday afternoon the M.P. at the Fort’s main gate stopped an erratically driven car from exiting the Fort. A few minutes of conversation convinced the M.P. that the driver, a Captain, was drunk. He then called me—I was the duty officer that day—and said I needed to come and resolve the matter since an officer was involved. Amid the storm of abuse that greeted me, he insisted that he had to return that day to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. Much too risky, I concluded. So we locked the car, left the keys at the main gate, and I arranged for the Captain to spend the night in the Bachelor Office Quarters. His final threat was that I would regret my decision and should expect to be before the post commander in the morning.

Sure enough, waiting at Company Headquarters on Monday morning was an order for me to report immediately to General McAuliffe. The meeting was military formal. The General asked what had occurred Sunday afternoon with the Captain. I explained the Captain’s incapacity to drive safely, his behavior with the gate M.P. and with me, and the action I felt it essential to take. He listened without interruption and acknowledged that what I had done was proper. He apologized for the Captain’s attitude and explained that he obviously had too much to drink at a reunion celebration for men who had been trapped at Bastogne 10 years earlier. He thanked and dismissed me.

Not attending any reunion were the three prominent American writers who fought in the Battle of the Bulge: Ernest Hemingway, J. D. Salinger and Kurt Vonnegut.

Ernest Hemingway was a war correspondent, but journalism wasn’t a high priority. He demonstrated his fearlessness under fire many times.

J.D. Salinger, with the 12th Infantry Regiment, wrote short stories throughout the Battle whenever he could find an unoccupied foxhole. He was fortunate enough to receive a fresh pair of knitted woolen socks each week from his mother.

Kurt Vonnegut, the least fortunate of the three, was in the 423 Infantry Regiment. His fellow soldiers he described as a mixture of college kids and others who had likely enlisted to avoid jail. His regiment, encircled by German artillery, chose surrender rather than annihilation. Some 8,000 men were taken captive. It was the second largest of the War after the Bataan Death March in 1942. In his novel Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut writes about the horrors of war. He survived the firebombing of Dresden where he was held prisoner.

So there you have it: a good book, a bit of history, some literary trivia and a touch of the boy and the young lieutenant I once was. For the last I ask your indulgence. At 83, I seem to spend more time remembering than I do dreaming. My sincere desire remains, however, not only to share what I’ve learned but also to use what I know to help me learn what I don’t know. One is never too old for that.

-Joe DeSalvo, owner, Faulkner House Books

 

 

Anthony Beevor Ardennes book

Come Celebrate Roy Blount, Jr. March 13

Join Roy Blount, Jr. and the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society on Sunday, March 13 to celebrate Roy’s new book, Save Room for Pie. The event is free and open to the public. There will be free pie for all, so save room for it.

The celebration will take place from 2:30-4:30 p.m. at Faulkner House, 624 Pirate’s Alley in New Orleans. To reserve a copy of Roy’s book, call Faulkner House Books at (504) 524-2940.

Please RSVP at faulkhouse@aol.com, so we have plenty of pie to go around.

To learn more about the author, go to Roy’s page on the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society website. You can also watch  Roy’s YouTube video to hear his advice on how to eat in the South.

About Save Room for Pie:

One of America’s most cherished comic writers, Roy has been compared to Mark Twain and James Thurber, and his books have been called everything from “a work of art” (Robert W. Creamer, The New York Times Book Review) to “a book to read till it falls apart” (Newsweek). Now, in Save Room for Pie, he applies his much-praised wit and charm to a rich and fundamental topic: food.

As a lifelong eater, Blount always got along easy with food―he didn’t have to think, he just ate. But food doesn’t exist in a vacuum; there’s the global climate and the global economy to consider, not to mention Blount’s chronic sinusitis, which constricts his sense of smell, and consequently his taste buds. So while he’s always frowned on eating with an ulterior motive, times have changed. Save Room for Pie grapples with these and other food-related questions in Blount’s signature style. Here you’ll find lively meditations on everything from bacon froth to grapefruit, Kobe beef to biscuits. You’ll also find defenses of gizzards, mullet, okra, cane syrup, watermelon, and boiled peanuts; an imagined dialogue between Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden; input from Louis Armstrong, Frederick Douglass, and Blaze Starr; and of course some shampooed possums and carjacking turkeys.

In poems and songs, limericks and fake (or sometimes true) news stories, Blount talks about food in surprising and innovative ways, with all the wit and verve that prompted Garrison Keillor, in The Paris Review, to say: “Blount is the best. He can be literate, uncouth, and soulful all in one sentence.”

 

— Hayley Lynch, Editorial Associate, Faulkner Society

 

516A9p3ywuL

Vote for Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society

The Gulf Coast Bank & Trust Company is running an online competition for charitable nonprofits. The nonprofits that get the most votes will share $50,000. The Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society is among those nonprofits competing. Help us continue our literacy programs for at-risk youngsters by voting for the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society daily through March 15. Any funds received from this competition will be earmarked for this purpose.

Vote HERE!

It’s a simple process. If you have not previously voted, you need only fill in your email and click for an access number the first time. Thereafter, you will use the same access code daily.

Bookmark the page and vote daily! We will be grateful for your help.

–Rosemary James, Co-Founder, Faulkner Society

Mardi Gras: “It’s About Being Happy, Baby!”

FHB Mardi Gras

It’s carnival time in the Crescent City. I’m sitting inside Faulkner House behind St. Louis Cathedral listening to musicians’ brass horns and drumbeats blowing up the alley from Jackson Square.

Two women entered with plastic beads jangling around their necks. One of them asked me for books about Mardi Gras. As I directed them to our New Orleans history section and reached for one of my favorites, Lyle Saxon’s Gumbo Ya-Ya (70th Anniversary Edition, River Road Press), a bearded man flashed by our glass doors playing his arms like a trombone. He flashed by again, marching high-knees, pumping an arm up and down with the jazz beat and tooting a loose fist at his mouth.

I opened the door and told him these customers wanted to know about Mardi Gras. He kicked ahead but set his solo parade at a slight diagonal and yelled back to us: “It’s about being happy, baby!”

We wish y’all a happy Mardi Gras!

-Alex B. Johnson, Faulkner House Books

MLK Day & the Most Important Book of 2015

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau, 2015), $24

James Baldwin, Collected Essays (edited by Toni Morrison, Library of America, 1998), $35

Coates

The King family lost a husband and father with the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His body was stolen, but he lives on in his writings and teachings. We honor his life and pursuit of justice today.

A half-century after the Civil Rights Movement, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a letter to his teenage son explaining the state of race relations in America. The letter was published as Between the World and Me and won the National Book Award for Nonfiction. As Toni Morrison says on the dust jacket, it is “required reading.” It is the most important book of year.

Coates references James Baldwin only twice in the book, but his format resembles The Fire Next Time (1963)—a letter to Baldwin’s nephew—and many insights are Baldwin-inspired, updated for the 21st century context of dash cams, private prisons, and the “new Jim Crow” (see Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindedness, 2010).

Coates believes that a race-based society grows from historical power imbalances rooted in fear and control of the body. With clarity of language and brutal honesty, Coates shares personal stories to show how living in black skin renders life in America to be a struggle against disembodiment. He concludes a story about his father’s anger: “This was a war for the possession of his body and that would be the war of his whole life.”

Coates reads and writes in search of meaning and understanding. He discusses many authors and poets such that, in a sense, Between the World and Me is a literary treatise on race relations in American culture. Coates discusses the “narrative” of America that perpetuates our looking away. He calls this narrative “the Dream,” the idea that success in America derives from hard work instead of traditional power imbalances. Coates loved The Dukes of Hazzard growing up and offers the TV show as an example of how pop culture helps us look away from injustice and believe in “the Dream.”

“Historians conjured the Dream. Hollywood fortified the Dream. The Dream was gilded by novels and adventure stories.”

Pat Conroy seems to acknowledge Coates’s point by calling Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind (1936) a “singular, canonical moment in Southern mythmaking” (see Conroy, My Reading Life, 2010). For Baldwin, a belief in the myth of human inequality “protects moral high-mindedness at the terrible expense of weakening our grasp of reality.” In 1955, Baldwin wrote in Notes of a Native Son (1955) about history’s influence on the present:

“Most people are not naturally reflective any more than they are naturally malicious, and the white man prefers to keep the black man at a certain human remove because it is easier for him thus to preserve his simplicity and avoid being called to account for crimes committed by his forefathers, or his neighbors…. Every legend, moreover, contains its residuum of truth, and the root function of language is to control the universe by describing it.”

Like Baldwin, Coates blames our lingering history—not individuals—for racial injustices today. “This is the import of the history all around us, though very few people like to think about it.” Coates explains to his son:

“The mettle that it takes to look away from the horror of our prison system, from the police forces transformed into armies, from the long war against the black body, is not forged overnight…. To acknowledge these horrors means turning away from the brightly rendered version of your country as it has always declared itself and turning toward something murkier and unknown. It is still too difficult for most Americans to do this. But that is your work. It must be, if only to preserve the sanctity of your mind.”

In Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates teaches his son about history, language, inequality, and opportunity. He reminds American readers that we can no longer look away.

“It was the cotton that passed through our chained hands that inaugurated this age. It is the flight from us that sent them sprawling into the subdivided woods.”

Let’s not forget our collective history as Americans. Let’s remember the good and the bad of how we arrived here. Let’s remember that Dr. King wrote to white clergymen in Birmingham from a narrow jail cell about the “interrelatedness of all communities and states,” proclaiming “[i]njustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (see King, Why We Can’t Wait, 1964). Today, let’s thank Coates for the reminder. Tomorrow, let’s not dare look away.

-Alex B. Johnson, Faulkner House Books