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Faulkner birthday to be celebrated Sept. 25 at Rowan Oak

Scheduled marathon public reading of ‘Absalom, Absalom!’ draws fans from afar

September 14, 2004

William Faulkner reads at the 17th Annual Meeting of the Delta Council in Cleveland, Miss., May 1952.

OXFORD, Miss. — From sunup to sundown Sept. 25 at Rowan Oak, scores of William Faulkner scholars and fans are slated to publicly read all 313 pages of Absalom, Absalom!, often hailed as the Nobel Prize-winning novelist’s masterpiece.

The 6 a.m.-10 p.m. marathon reading, at the writer’s historic home near the University of Mississippi, commemorates Faulkner’s 107th birthday and the 68th anniversary of the book’s publication. Visitors from as far away as Texas have reserved times to read in 10-minute segments from lecterns on the porch of Rowan Oak, which is maintained as a literary landmark by the university.

“The novel consists of numerous ‘voices’ in dialogue, and we are excited at the prospect of having those voices heard, rather than read silently,” said Joe Urgo, event organizer and chair of the UM Department of English. “A public reading combines the two things that readers like best: reading (and re-reading) their favorite books and talking about books.”

The event also celebrates Rowan Oak’s recent reopening following completion of its second phase of extensive renovations. The home is open to the public during the readings. According to tradition, the birthday commemoration also will feature cake and witty tributes by literary greats.

Absalom, Absalom!, noted for its unusual dense and often intricate prose, offers one of Faulkner’s most compelling explorations of race, gender and the burdens of the past.

“As one Faulkner character says in another book, ‘We do not know how it will go, but whatever happens, it will be glorious,’” Urgo said.

Donald Kartiganer, holder of UM’s Howry Chair in Faulkner Studies and professor of English, said the featured book is the most historical of Faulkner’s works and “one of his most important studies of race relations in the South, in particular the role that racist thinking played in the decline of the Old South.”

Kartiganer said he suspects that if Faulkner were alive, he probably would be dismayed at the throngs of admirers milling about the grounds of Rowan Oak annually to commemorate his birthday, but he might be pleased at the reading of his novel.

“I think Faulkner would always appreciate any attention to his work,” Kartiganer said. “He wrote to be read — even read aloud, if that’s what one wants to do. How he would have felt about the reading taking place at his house is another matter … but he probably wouldn’t mind, as long as the focus is on the book and not on him.”

Volunteers who wish to participate can reserve reading times by calling 662-915-7439 or by e-mailing absalom@olemiss.edu. Forms also can be accessed from the UM Department of English web site at www.olemiss.edu/depts/english.

Rowan Oak’s regular visiting hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 1-4 p.m. Sunday. For guided tours and assistance related to a disability, call 662-234-3284.


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