Oprah Winfrey recently challenged her extensive fan base to read a collection of works by Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner by declaring them as the summer selection for her popular book club.
“If you have not read this author, you cannot say you have been baptized as a real reader,” she said.
Winfrey’s June 3 endorsement catapulted Faulkner back onto bestseller lists. The coup is welcomed by Faulkner scholar Donald Kartiganer, director of the annual Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference, coming up July 24-28 at the University of Mississippi.
“Oprah’s recommendation (of As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury and Light in August) will get a lot of people to try Faulkner, and many will be delightfully surprised,” said Kartiganer, UM’s Howry Professor of Faulkner Studies. “Faulkner’s fiction is not easy, but I think his reputation frightens people into assuming he’s more difficult than he actually is.”
I still don’t quite know how it happened but Caddy told me, “Go on, Bill, you should go on that woman Oprah’s show. You’re so not past because the past is never past. It’s now! She’ll bring back your books. All she has to do is say the word and they’ll be in all the stores and her TV watchers will buy half a million copies. Ain’t that a laugh! You been dead fifty years and a television personality snaps her fingers and you’re a bestselling author like Stephen King. In Oxford people always called you Count No-Count, even after you won the Nobel Prize, but now that you’re going on Oprah they’ll change their minds. Now go enjoy yourself–and don’t drink too much!”
(I think of Caddy’s dirty drawers.)
Versh and Dilsey carry me to the airport in Versh’s new Buick and put me on the plane and Versh says, “Hush, stop your snifflin’, Bill.” And Dilsey says, “I’ll wipe his nose. Now don’t you get into no mischief up north, hear?” They let me out at the airport and I get on the plane and sit back and open my flask for a nip…
I come to with a dry flask and a headache when we land in Chicago and manage to make it to the terminal, where I spot a young woman holding up a sign saying: WILLIAM FAULKNER. OPRAH SHOW
I go over and introduce myself and she says, “I’m Avis Davis. Oh, It’s so scary to meet one of our greatest dead American authors. I read you in college and never did understand it even though I was an English major. Mr. Faulkner, are you all right? Why you look pale as a ghost.”
We settled ourselves in the rear seat of a long black automobile and were driven to what she told me was the “studio.”
“Oprah’s so-o-o excited about finally meeting you. She says you’re rilly her favorite author. Oh, here she is in her office.”
A handsome Negro woman rushes over and clamps me with lithe muscular arms. “I’ll call you Bill I feel I know you like an old friend from your books and I hear you’re a little bit shy and, yes, you should do yoga for that you just breathe ten times–hah-huh! hah-huh! shyness is just another word for low self-esteem and we have a wonderful show today and Tom Cruise coming to talk about Scientology–you should try it–and what he really thinks about his Katie as a master of human psychology do you think he has a real, mature, in-depth commitment to her here we are on the set Caddy’s dirty drawers! sit there, please don’t mind all those people out front ’cause they’re really your fans it’ll be like coming home they all adore you.”
I seat myself on a grandiose couch made out of some kind of slippery soft leather and sweat in glaring lights hot as the noon-day sun down in Oxford and this Oprah woman is all the time smiling with white teeth and talking and talking. And then pretty soon out comes loud brash fellow Tom with long hair and the women scream. The Oprah woman starts chattering with him a mile a minute too fast for me to make it out and he yells at her and can’t for the life of him sit still and he is squirming about on the couch and jumping up and down and shouting, “I love her! I love her so help me God, this is so the real thing! I’ve never felt this way about any girl–not even my last wife, not even poor Nicole, who was too tall and competed with my career as you all know but what could I do?” And then he kind of crawls over my lap and embraces the Oprah woman and drags her around and kisses her and with a wave to the audience he bounds off and the Oprah woman is laughing and screaming blue murder.
Finally, the Oprah woman grabs my hand and drags me up. “And now I want you to meet America’s greatest writer, Mr. William Faulkner of Oxford, Mississippi–that’s a state forty years ago I wouldn’t have been caught dead in which I might well have been if I ever went there Bill Faulkner wrote about his native region and made racism seem like a biblical curse. Bill, tell me what you really I mean really think of the South today?”
“I don’t hate the South. I don’t hate the South. I don’t…”
“There you are, guys we have reconciled Bill Faulkner and the South love is so much more positive an energy release than hate I want all of you to read Bill’s books every word don’t cheat and you’ll gain a sense of the dark and perdurable historical subtext of slavery, written in a sophisticated almost avant-garde narratory strategy that melds biblical cadences with traditional rhythms of folk speech something you’ll never ever get from Danielle Steele.”
Then someone takes me by the hand and I stagger offstage, feeling the need for several restorative drinks but it turns out they don’t have a drop of liquor on the premises because the Oprah woman doesn’t believe in liquor because it’s against her diet.
I decide to go home to my little postage stamp of earth, vowing it will be another millennium before you get me out of my grave again.