William Faulkner was one of the most honored American authors in the 20th century, receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature, two Pulitzer Prizes for fiction and two National Book Awards. Though with all the public conversation today of race in America, it is my impression that a Faulkner book rarely is selected for a college reading list, an adult education course or a book club. I wonder why?
Faulkner’s fiction depicts life in Mississippi during both during slavery and post-emancipation segregation. The stories are often about the cruelty of White people and the suffering of African Americans. The characters use harsh and raw language rife with the N-Word. Faulkner acknowledged the “human stain” left from the South’s brutal history. He wrote “the past is not dead, it’s not even past.” Yet Faulkner, both the writer and human being, believed that there was hope for the future as he said I believe that man will not merely endure; he will prevail.”
Since Faulkner has been too long neglected, Bob Boone and I decided to teach a course on his writing at the Oakton Community College Emeritus program in Skokie. We call the course “A Taste of Faulkner.” It will be offered on six Thursday mornings from 10:00 until 11:30, from September 19 through October 31. There will be no class on October 24. Registration begins July 8. You can register at http://www.oakton.edu/conted.
In Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood Saul Bellow wrote, taught and experienced the vicissitudes of life for many decades. Eventually Hyde Park took an emotional toll on him, as he wrote, at age eighty-two, “the things that bugged me, grieved me, about living in Hyde Park was to pass the houses where my late friends once lived, and even the windows from which I myself used to look out more than fifty years ago. The daily melancholy of passing these places was among the things that drove me East.”
Now fourteen years after his death, Hyde Park is finally paying homage to Bellow. Playing at the Court Theater and ending this week after a run of a month, is a fine dramatic adaptation of Bellow’s third novel, The Adventures of Augie March. There is also a fascinating special exhibit focusing on Bellow and Augie at the Regenstein Library on the University of Chicago campus, where Bellow’s archives are stored. Included in this exhibit are also interesting personal memorabilia such as Saul’s naturalization papers and passport. It runs through June 15.
Bellow is the only American writer to have won the Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer Prize and three National Book Awards. Yet, over the years, he has become somewhat of a literary persona non grata due to a new generation of academics and critics who perceive his writing and personal life as reactionary and misogynistic. He has been taken off most university undergraduate and graduate American literature curricula. He has fallen victim to the very political correctness that he abhorred.
But like him or not, Bellow’s true genius rang true that night in Hyde Park as we listened to his words orated by the actors in Augie. Hyde Park’s prodigal son returned home, at least for a little while.
As the 75th Anniversary of D-Day approaches, I’ve been thinking a lot about Cornelius Ryan’s book, The Longest Day. The book was published in 1959, and I read it as a teenager. Then, I was swept away by this heroic tale of the soldiers taking part in the first day of the Allied Normandy Invasion. When I reread it as an adult many years later, I came to realize that The Longest Day was perhaps the greatest book of journalistic non-fiction that I had ever read. Mr. Ryan passed away in 1974, but each year, the journalists of the Overseas Press Club of America give “The Cornelius Ryan Award” to the journalist who has written the “best nonfiction book on international affairs.” Let us commemorate these D-Day heroes for their service and sacrifice, and do not forget Cornelius Ryan who so admirably chronicled their valor.