Before They Were Famous: William Faulkner

William Faulkner, one of the most distinguished modernist authors, received two Nobel Prizes for fiction and one for literature. Over the course of his writing career, he earned a robust reputation for not only his novels, which openly confronted controversial issues rooted in the rural south, but also his poetry, short stories, and screenplays. Despite his prowess as a literary juggernaut, Faulkner — much to the surprise of many of his most avid fans — encountered a number of personal and professional rejections during his early life.

Faulkner lacked an interest in formal education, dropping out of high school at a young age to pursue a career. To support himself, he worked as a bank clerk in the southern town of Oxford and wrote in his free time. Inspired by Algernon Swinburne, John Keats, and A. E. Housman, much of Faulkner’s earliest works were poems, a good number of which were addressed to his love interest, Estelle Oldham. Despite the young writer’s best efforts, Oldham’s parents disapproved of the couple’s courtship and encouraged their daughter to seek a suitor with better financial prospects.

In 1918, Faulkner attempted to enlist in the U.S. Army with the hopes of pursuing a career as a pilot. However, his application was denied when he failed to meet physical requirements. Determined to see action, Faulkner travelled to Toronto, Canada. Claiming to be an English citizen, he successfully joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. Unfortunately, by the time he reached France, the first World War had ended.

The Sound and the Fury

After returning to the United States, Faulkner briefly enrolled in the University of Mississippi, where he wrote for the school paper. However, he quickly proved to be an inattentive student and dropped out of school once more.

During this time, Faulkner accepted a job as postmaster for the University of Mississippi. However, he was reportedly a very poor employee who spent most of his time writing and only a small portion of it attending to his responsibilities. Though he attempted to generate interest in his work, many of Faulkner’s contemporaries dismissed him, unconvinced of his potential.

Still Faulkner persevered, writing tirelessly with the hope of gaining recognition. In 1929, the young novelist succeeded in achieving his goal. His book, The Sound and the Fury, garnered much critical attention.

Up until his death in 1962, Faulkner continued to write successfully. He published a number of acclaimed works, including Light in August and As I Lay Dying, both of which were featured on Modern Library’s list of The 100 best English Language Novels of the 20th Century along with his earlier work The Sound and the Fury.

Admittedly, Faulkner faced a number of challenges in his early life, which affected both his career and his personal life. However, his passion never dwindled. Perhaps more importantly, neither did his resolve. Celebrating a legacy as one of the most preeminent authors of the 20th century, Faulkner continues to be remembered not only for his skill as a writer but for his wily determination and unwavering persistence.

— Dominique Dusek, Assistant Managing Editor & Submissions Manager

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