Thursday, February 11, 2010

Source Material

William Faulkner is to me the greatest American writer of the 20th century. I know others would argue but, to my taste, Faulkner's voice is the strongest, most interesting, most individual. I've just read an article about the diaries of a landowner/slave owner he used as the basis of both stories and characters in the whole Yonknapatofa [sorry for the misspelling] County opus. That he had authentic source material does not diminish his accomplishment in any way. His voice -- those sprawling sentences -- the life of those characters was his alone and not the result of a faded, crack backed set of diaries.

When writers are told to write what they know, this does not mean to write about their own egos and personal experiences necessarily. The great writers know the world they live in and know its history because they have looked and understood and want to both understand better as they create a facsimile and want to make it accessible to the reader as they shape the stories they have found to tell. To me Faulkner did this supremely and I am fascinated to read about how he used the names of slaves owned by the diary's writer as the names of his white characters. I'm sure much more will be revealed about his writing choices. The choices of a creative genius are more than a literary curiosity, they reveal creative possibility and are a challenge to the rest of us whether we are readers or writers or both.


Kass said...

Good point about setting the ego aside when writing about what we know. This was a nice Faulkner review and tribute.

John Ettorre said...

It is indeed pretty tough to argue against him for the top spot.