American novelist and writer of short stories, William Faulkner was born in 1897 in New Albany, Mississippi and grew up in Oxford (Mississippi). He did not complete his studies at high school and attended university for only a short time. He became a pilot for the Canadian Air Force in World War I (in 1918) having being rejected by the United States Army Air Force, but did not take part in combat as the war came to an end. His first published book was a collection of poems entitled The Marble Faun (1924). His first novel, Soldier’s Pay (1926), was written after finding encouragement from authors such as Sherwood Anderson.
Faulkner’s later works include The Sound and the Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930) and Absalom, Absalom! (1936). His novels are perhaps best known for their focus on the decaying South and his use of the fictional county of Yoknapatawpha (whose county seat is Jefferson, which is thought to be based on Oxford). A map of this area appears in Absalom, Absalom! Light in August (1932), which is set in Jefferson, examines the endemic racism of the South through the characterization of Joe Christmas.
His work is distinctively modernist in its use of formal experimentation and with the adoption of varied points of view. This experimentation is evident in the use of stream of consciousness, in the replication of fragmented thoughts and in the questioning of linear time; readers who consider realist texts to be the norm may think of his novels as ‘difficult’.
Such difficulties may also arise because his fictions challenge the realist mode of storytelling and embrace the use of the interior monologue as well as slipping between first and third person narrators. James Joyce and T.S. Eliot are just two of the influences on his work and he is now ranked alongside these authors in the literary history of the twentieth century.
In the 1930s, Faulkner also became involved in writing screenplays for Hollywood and this went on intermittently into the 1950s. He achieved the highest accolade for his fiction in 1949 when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. He has also been the recipient of the French Legion of Honor and two Pulitzer Prizes for fiction. After falling from his horse and suffering a heart attack, he died in 1962.