In 1957 and 1958, William Faulkner served as the University of Virginia’s first Author in Residence. During his two years in Charlottesville, Faulkner gave lectures and readings at U.Va. But he also made one trip over Afton Mountain to Lexington, where, on May 15, 1958, he appeared in Lee Chapel to give a reading of “The Town” to a Washington and Lee audience.
Like many of Faulkner’s sessions, the Lee Chapel reading was captured on a reel-to-reel tape recorder. That recording is part of a newly published website: Faulkner at Virginia: An Audio Archive.
Perhaps you heard the NPR story about the archive on Morning Edition this week. We were alerted to the presence of the Lee Chapel tape by Milburn Noell ’51, ’54L, who received an email about it this week.
Not only can you listen to Faulkner reading from his work, but he also answers a series of questions from the audience. The quality of the audio isn’t the greatest, but the website includes a transcript and breaks the recording into sections to make it easier to follow. The question-and-answer session is wide ranging, with one audience member asking whether or not Faulkner had read any critical analyses of his fiction. To that the author replied: “No, sir. I don’t read that. I prefer to read fiction.”
One question that drew audible murmurs from the audience was about the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which had been handed down four years earlier. Faulkner’s initial response drew laughter: “That’s sort of got out of fiction, hasn’t it?” He went on to say that “I would say it was something that — that had to — to come.”
You can find the Washington and Lee event at this link. It’s worth a listen and look.