William Faulkner was born in New Albany, Mississippi, in 1897, into a family that had been deeply rooted in the area for generations. The eldest of four boys, Faulkner grew up in nearby Oxford, and lived there for much of the rest of his life. At 21, during World War I, he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force, where he changed the spelling of his surname from Falkner to Faulkner. The following year, though he had never finished high school, he enrolled at the University of Mississippi in Oxford. He dropped out after several semesters, later working as a postmaster at the university.
Faulkner published his first book, a volume of poems called The Marble Faun, in 1924. In 1925, he lived in New Orleans, where he met Sherwood Anderson...Show More »
With Anderson’s encouragement, Faulkner wrote his first novel, Soldiers’ Pay, in 1925. The novels Mosquitoes (1927), Sartoris (1929), The Sound and the Fury (1929) and As I Lay Dying (1930) quickly followed, with The Sound and the Fury getting noticed by critics and giving first indications that Faulkner was a major writer. He gained a wider readership with 1931’s bestselling Sanctuary. Subsequent novels came to be known as the Yoknapatawpha saga, named for the fictional Mississippi county in which they take place: Light in August (1932), Pylon (1935), Absalom, Absalom! (1936), The Unvanquished (1938), The Wild Palms (1939), The Hamlet (1940) and Go Down, Moses, and Other Stories (1941). Principal later works included Intruder in the Dust (1948), A Fable (1954), which won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, The Town (1957), The Mansion (1959) and The Reivers (1962), which posthumously earned Faulkner his second Pulitzer. Faulkner received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949, the fourth American to do so, and his Collected Stories also won the National Book Award, in 1951. Following the success of Sanctuary, Faulkner also wrote about a dozen movie scripts for Hollywood, and was later writer-in-residence at the University of Virginia. With a portion of his Nobel winnings, Faulkner established a fund to support new fiction which ultimately became the PEN/Faulkner Award.
Faulkner’s literary inspiration derived from his geography; the decadence and decay and brutality of the Old South, the social stratification and tension between older, more established families and newcomers, and racial prejudice and the problems between blacks and whites were major themes throughout his work. These themes gave much of his writing a Gothic or grotesque flavor. Faulkner’s prose style was often characterized as experimental, and he used distortion of time and inner monologue to original effect throughout his novels and stories. Faulkner was also preoccupied with and paid great attention to his characters’ diction and cadence.
Faulkner died of a heart attack in 1962, at age 64, in Byhalia, Mississippi. He had one daughter, Jill, and two stepchildren.