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“I Know William Faulkner” – Phil Stone and Stark Young

Announcement of the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Literature to William Faulkner came on November 10, 1950. Under the title “I Know William Faulkner”, his friend, mentor, and fellow Oxonian, Phil Stone, wrote in the November 16th issue of the Oxford Eagle about his lifelong friendship with the now world famous author.

Photo by Ed Meek
Photo by Ed Meek

Stone stated, “One day walking toward his father’s house he said he didn’t know why he kept on writing because he was sure he would not only never make any money out of it but would never receive any literary recognition either. Nobody in Oxford cared either—nobody but his mother and myself and Mack Reed, who bought his books and tried to sell them, at personal financial loss.”
Noted New York critic, scholar, and translator, Stark Young, also of Oxford, took exception to this statement. Stone had sent him a copy of the Oxford Eagle from November 16th. Young then wrote a letter to the Eagle Editor, Eldon J. Hoar, that was published in the November 30th issue.
Young stated, “I am anxious to have this long belief on my part known in Oxford; since it is only natural that there will be some people, some of them friends of both of us, who may wonder why I as an Oxford man and a fellow writer should never have shown an interest or admiration for William Faulkner. I am already touching on this point in certain New York quarters; on numerous occasions various critics and authors have said to me as taken for granted that of course I did not care for Faulkner. I have always tried to convince them how mistaken they are, though I have never seen my way exactly to telling them in my opinion Bill has more of the real thing in his little finger than all these New York writers put together. I am well aware that when a man has a great success such as the Nobel Prize there will be many people who have always known, who have thought all along, who have often said-—et cetera—on the basis of the Spanish proverb that he who wins is always likable”.
Editor Hoar in a note before the reprint of Young’s letter stated that Stone apologized for neglecting Young in his story about Faulkner’s career. He commented, “We’re all proud that Stark still considers himself one of us”. This was an interesting turn of events between these three men with an Oxford background and childhood. Stone was some eleven years younger than Young and Faulkner was about four years younger than Stone. Stone had introduced Faulkner to Young in the summer of 1914, when Young had made one of his usual summer trips back to Oxford to see his father.
Young had watched the progress of Faulkner since his first meeting with him in 1914. Faulkner would bring him notebooks filled with his poems when Young would make his summer trips to Oxford. He stated that “they strove for great intensity of feeling.” At times when they were alone, Faulkner would sometimes open up a bit and tell Young something of his life in Oxford. “It seemed more and more futile,” Young said, “that anyone so remarkable as he should be thus bruised and wasted…” Young wanted to help his young friend and fellow Oxonian. He felt, as Stone did, that he needed to be near publishers and other literary people to try to secure a place for his writing.
With the help of Stone they convinced the young aspiring writer to move to New York. Young volunteered the sofa in his one bedroom apartment to Faulkner for as long as he needed it. He also had a friend, Elizabeth Prall, who ran a bookstore in the Lord and Taylor Department Store on 38th Street and Fifth Avenue. He prevailed upon her to give Faulkner a job in the bookstore for the Thanksgiving to Christmas rush. With one hundred dollars in his pocket, sixty of which was used for the train fare, Faulkner went off to New York. Little did he know that this connection would secure him, in a few years, his first three-book deal with publisher Horace Livermore. Around this same time Miss Prall married Sherwood Anderson who would secure the book-deal with Livermore.
An interesting side-light to fact that not many of the Oxford folk cared for Faulkner’s writing concerns Phil Stone and Faulkner’s uncle, Judge John Falkner. Judge Falkner was leaning on the mailbox in front of the First National Bank and cussing about his nephew to some of the local business leaders of Oxford.
Stone walked by and heard him state that “Bill was not worth Mississippi goddamn—and never will be. Won’t hold a job; won’t try; won’t do anything! He’s a Falkner and I hate to say it about my own nephew, but, hell, there’s a black sheep in everybody’s family and Billy’s ours. Not worth a cent”.
Stone said, with deliberate politeness, knowing of the discrepancy between the talents of the nephew and the Judge, “No, sir, Judge Falkner, you’re wrong about Bill. I’ll make you a prediction. There’ll be people coming to Oxford on account of Bill who would never have heard of the place except for Bill and what he writes.” “Ah, hell!” the Judge said as he walked off, “that goddamn tripe Bill writes!”
Mayfield 34
Jack Lamar Mayfield is a fifth generation Oxonian, whose family came to Oxford shortly after the Chickasaw Cession of 1832, and he is the third generation of his family to graduate from the University of Mississippi. He is a former insurance company executive and history instructor at Marshall Academy in Holly Springs, South Panola High School in Batesvile and the Oxford campus of Northwest Community College.
In addition to his weekly blog in HottyToddy.com Oxford’s Olden Days, Mayfield is also the author of an Images of America series book titled Oxford and Ole Miss published in 2008 for the Oxford-Lafayette County Heritage Foundation. The Foundation is responsible for restoring the post-Civil War home of famed Mississippi statesman, L.Q.C. Lamar and is now restoring the Burns Belfry, the first African American Church in Oxford.

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