English students studying Faulkner find South's Oxford

Five Fort Hays State University English majors recently headed south to Oxford, Miss., where they gained biographical and historical insights on Nobel laureate William Faulkner and the Southern culture reflected in his literary works.

Students who traveled to Oxford were Traci Bamber, Hill City, junior; M. Dominick Biondo, Kansas City, Mo., senior; Justin Brown, Pratt, graduate student; Paige Kincade, Idaho Springs, Colo., junior; and Olga Renner, University of Duisburg-Essen, Recklinghausen, Germany, graduate student. Faculty members Brenda Craven, instructor of English, and Dr. Bradley Will, associate professor of English, accompanied the group.

The first stop for students was Faulkner's home, Rowan Oak, where curator William Griffith led a tour of the antebellum house. Students were allowed to view the kitchen which was Faulkner's favorite writing room, which is usually closed to the public.

"If we had only seen Rowan Oak, the 13-hour drive would have been worth it," said Biondo. "Faulkner was a very private man. To see where he wrote showed more about his writing than the stories alone."

"We just read 'Absalom, Absalom!' for class," he said. "At one point in the book, someone asks the protagonist, 'Why would anyone live in the South?' Actually being there gave us a better sense of the ruggedness of the land the main character loves."

"It provided a true sense of the world in which Faulkner lived and the Southern culture which he is a part of," said Craven.

Students visited the University of Mississippi, where they met with Southern literature professor and Fulbright scholar Dr. Catherine McKee, who discussed Faulkner's role as a Southern writer. They also met with Dr. Ted Ownby, director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, who explained the center's mission as well as historical aspects of Southern literature and culture. The group visited historic Oxford neighborhoods including the Courthouse Square and St. Peter's Cemetery, burial site of Faulkner.

In addition, the group explored Southern music as well as literature, with a visit to Greg Johnson, director of the blues archives, who introduced students to the region's distinctive musical traditions, discussing blues' origins and playing excerpts from important blues works.

The Oxford tour concluded with Dr. Jennifer Ford, director of the Faulkner Archives, describing the various holdings in the archives and showing students numerous Faulkner artifacts, papers and manuscripts, which are normally unavailable to the public.

"We saw an interesting variety of artifacts at the archives," said Biondo. "To see Faulkner's revision process, in his tiny angular handwriting, really helped shed light on his writing process."

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