One of the 20th century’s greatest novelists, William Cuthbert Falkner, as his name was originally spelled, never graduated from high school. He was born in New Albany, Mississippi, the first of four sons, and moved with his family to Oxford, Mississippi, at the age of five. As a young man, influenced by the work of English poets A.E. Housman and Algernon Charles Swinburne, he began writing poems that explored Romantic themes of lost love and natural beauty.
After a brief stint in the Canadian Royal Air Force (where it is believed he claimed the “Faulkner” spelling), he enrolled at the University of Mississippi for three semesters, during which time he published his first poem, “L’Apres-Midi d’un Faune,” in the New Republic. In 1924 his first book, a poetry collection entitled The Marble Faun, was published.
Soon thereafter, Faulkner moved to New Orleans, where he began to write the novels and stories for which he would become famous. In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize, Faulkner spoke on the fate of the human race in the face of the coming Cold War, stating his faith in the survival of man because “he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s duty is to write about these things [...] The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.”
Faulkner died of a heart attack at the age of 64. He is buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery in Oxford.