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Home:  >News & Events   >News Archives   >2005

William Faulkner’s Bible returned to Rowan Oak

Nobel Prize-winning author’s home dedicated following three-year restoration

May 1, 2005

By Tobie Baker
University of Mississippi News Services

Jill Faulkner Summers (front left) and husband Paul Summers join actor Morgan Freeman (back left), University of Mississippi Chancellor Robert Khayat and author John Grisham on the front steps of Rowan Oak on May 1.

OXFORD, Miss. - William Faulkner’s Bible was returned Sunday to his home, Rowan Oak, by his daughter, Jill Faulkner Summers, more than 40 years after his death.

Attending ceremonies to commemorate a three-year restoration of the Nobel Prize-winning author’s Oxford home, Summers made the surprise announcement that she was returning both her father’s Bible and another family Bible.

“I felt this is where the Bibles belong,” she said. “I took them when I moved, and I wanted to give them back.”

The items on display inside Rowan Oak, including Faulkner’s typewriter, represent 80 percent of the items left in the home following the literary icon’s death in 1962.

Rowan Oak curator William Griffith said he was thrilled for Summers’ gift. “This is the greatest surprise of the day,” Griffith said. “We will put the Bibles on display and give Rowan Oak a sense of reverence.”

The dedication marked the completion of a $1.3 million restoration of the house and grounds, owned and maintained by the University of Mississippi. Hundreds, including friends and family members of Faulkner, attended the ceremonies. Gov. Haley Barbour, U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker and actor Morgan Freeman were among those at the dedication on a sunny, picture-perfect afternoon.

“Rowan Oak is an international treasure,” said UM Chancellor Robert Khayat. “We are thrilled to reopen this sanctuary, this quiet place of contemplation.”

Offering the keynote address, author John Grisham said Faulkner would be proud of the efforts to restore the home: “If Faulkner were here today, he’d stroll the grounds and feel at home.”

Introduced to Faulkner’s writings in the ninth grade, Grisham admitted he was bewildered the first time he read The Sound and the Fury. He also recalled his first trip to Rowan Oak that spring with classmates from Horn Lake.

“I was struck by the tranquility and peacefulness of Rowan Oak,” Grisham said. “This is a true treasure for all to enjoy.”

Originally known as The Bailey Place, Faulkner renamed it Rowan Oak for the legend of the Rowan tree, which is recorded in Sir James Frazer's The Golden Bough. According to the tale, Scottish peasants placed a cross of Rowan wood over their thresholds to ward off evil spirts and afford occupants a place of refuge, privacy and peace.

Throughout the restoration, none of the color schemes, wood moldings or floor plans were altered. The three-phase restoration was made possible by private gifts and grants from the state of Mississippi; U.S. Department of Interior, Parks Service; and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

It was here at Rowan Oak that Faulkner accomplished one of the more remarkable feats of American literature. From Absalom, Absalom! to As I Lay Dying, Faulkner wrote a series of novels set in his “native soil” of Yoknapatawpha.

The ceremonies also included John Maxwell, creator of the acclaimed one-man play Oh, Mr. Faulkner, Do You Write?, reciting Faulkner’s 1950 Nobel Prize acceptance speech. Summers, who at age 16 traveled with her father to Sweden to accept the award, was moved emotionally as she sat with her eyes closed during the recount.

Following the dedication, Rowan Oak was opened for tours. It remains open to visitors 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays and 1-4 p.m. Sundays. Guided tours are available by calling 662-234-3284.

Take a virtual tour of Rowan Oak by visiting www.olemiss.edu/depts/u_museum/rowan_oak/interactive.html.

Related Links
Grisham assists in Rowan Oak rededication,” by Bryan Doyle. The Daily Mississippian (2 May 2005).
Rowan Oak true to the spirit of Yoknapatawpha,” by James Dowd. The Memphis Commercial-Appeal (2 May 2005).
Literary Pilgrims Flock to Faulkner’s Home,” by Melanie Peeples. NPR’s Morning Edition (2 May 2005).
Finding Faulkner, Forging a Different Path,” by [Oxford, Miss., Mayor] Richard Howorth. NPR’s Morning Edition (2 May 2005).
Homage to Bill: Grisham at Faulkner house opening.” The Hook (28 April 2005).
At Faulkner’s place, the cow was really a cow,” by Ed Williams. The Charlotte Observer (24 April 2005).

 


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