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Oxford Stories: A Journey Through Faulkner Alley

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Culinary aromas accumulate in the covered part of Faulkner Alley, situated between City Grocery and Old Venice. As one walks out into the uncovered portion of the alley, the smells dissolve into a mixture of food and cigarettes, as employees of both restaurants walk to the back of the buildings for their occasional smoke break.

One can almost taste the signature Oxford staples of shrimp and grits and the moist loaves of breads dipped in olive oil and pepper. Outside the alley, there is the noise of cars driving by, with the occasional sound of pipes blasting and breaks squealing as drivers accelerate after slowing down for the crosswalk. Dumpster lids open and shut as restaurant employees frequently take out trash.

A view of Faulkner Alley from the north entrances. As one walks out into the uncovered portion of the alley, the smells dissolve into a mixture of food and cigarettes as employees of both restaurants walk to the back of the buildings for their occasional smoke break.
A view of Faulkner Alley from the north entrances. As one walks out into the uncovered portion of the alley, the smells dissolve into a mixture of food and cigarettes as employees of both restaurants walk to the back of the buildings for their occasional smoke break.

When asked about the alley, Hamp Hickman, an Oxford resident who works on the Square, had one response: “What is it?”

The walls inside Faulkner Alley are rough, with chipped paint and exposed brick. As feet shuffle against the ground, tiny rocks are kicked up.

The rough and ragged parts of the journey down this particular alley are symbolic of Oxford’s history, changes within the city and the complex characters who have frequented it, including the famous figure it was named for, William Faulkner.

A look at the rough and unmatched interior of Faulkner Alley.
A look at the rough and unmatched interior of Faulkner Alley.

Sandwiched between buildings that are widely recognized throughout the community and to visitors afar (City Grocery, Southside Gallery, Burgundy Room, and Old Venice), it is easy to walk past the entrance of Faulkner Alley. The maroon covering of the alley is shared with the Burgundy Room entrance.

The very subtle and almost hidden north entrance of Faulkner Alley.
The very subtle and almost hidden north entrance of Faulkner Alley.

“I mean I’ve seen that sign, so I know it exists, but I just use it as a cut through,” said Hickman. “I don’t think I’ve ever noticed anything significant about it.”

The walls are dirty and unattractive throughout. There are two signs on the wall to the left that explain the importance of the alley, which would otherwise look uninviting. The first sign has a black frame, gold background, and black lettering, which reads:

“FAULKNER ALLEY: In his earlier years, William Faulkner used this alley to frequent the Gathright-Reed Drug Company, where he would borrow books from Mr. Mac Reed’s lending library. The drugstore was one of the only places his books could be purchased when he later became a published author. In recognition of the Nobel Prize-winning novelist, the City of Oxford dubbed the walkway Faulkner Alley in the 1980’s.”

The signs explaining the importance of Faulkner Alley.
The signs explaining the importance of Faulkner Alley.

The sign explains the efforts that led to the creation of Faulkner Alley and thanks local artists and businesses for their contributions to the project. A black and white photograph of Faulkner and Mr. Mac Reed, with cracked glass covering it, is next to it.

As the walk continues, there’s a large frame that reads “The Doors of Faulkner’s Oxford, Mississippi.” It has 16 pictures of various doors throughout the city that hold symbolic or historic value, namely to William Faulkner, including Neilson’s, the Lyric, and Rowan Oak. The piece holds little explanation.

Another wall hosts various stained glass images of flowers that reflect Faulkner’s literature, including a work of verbena, with the quote ” . . . the only scent you could smell above the smell of horses and courage. . ,” which draws from Ode to Verbena in The Unvanquished, and one of wisteria that reads: “It was a summer of wisteria” from Absalom, Absalom!

A series of stained glass paintings reflecting the works of William Faulkner.
A series of stained glass paintings reflecting the works of William Faulkner.

“I rarely go through there but, if I do, it is usually just a cut through,” said Connor Hegwood, a University of Mississippi alumnus and Oxford resident. “I wouldn’t even remember it was there if it weren’t for maybe being at one of the bars or restaurants by it.”

After about 20 more feet of white, concrete walls, stained with scuff marks and a few areas of painted bricks and cinder blocks, the alley opens to an uncovered overhead and a sole door which, during the day, is open for deliveries to the back bar of Old Venice.

A view of the multitude of colors in one small spot of Faulkner Alley.
A view of the multitude of colors in one small spot of Faulkner Alley.

At night, however, this door enters a “secret grilled cheese bar” that serves unique, cardiac arrest-worthy grilled cheeses and strong, throat-burning absinthe. Faulkner Alley is a mere waiting room to those standing in line for the one-in-one-out policy to ease so they can enter. During daylight, it just looks like a normal door in Faulkner Alley.

Besides the everyday sounds of cars and trash on either end of the alley, conversations echoing through worn walls of Faulkner Alley reverberate on a variety of topics with little-to-none relating to William Faulkner, himself.

A wide view of the south entrance of Faulkner Alley. The Square can be seen as a tiny sliver from this angle.
A wide view of the south entrance of Faulkner Alley. The Square can be seen as a tiny sliver from this angle.

This may be because many use the alley as a normal part in their everyday journey to work or the Square. Some individuals pass through while talking on their phones, ending with, “I love you too.” Some walk through with friends and catch up on the weekend with conversations like, “Dude, did you see him fall down the stairs? I think he had to go to the hospital.”

A woman exits the north side after quickly shuffling through Faulkner Alley.
A woman exits the north side after quickly shuffling through Faulkner Alley.

A few walked through with their children, especially on a Sunday when church has ended, and they are taking a shortcut to the Square for a family lunch. Some pass through alone, on a mission to get to where they are going.

Faulkner Alley serves as a passage for these individuals – a small journey that helps get people where they need to be.


Victoria Mekus can be contacted at vlmekus@go.olemiss.edu.

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