Faulkner, MWC, and Digitization

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

As part of my DMCI project (which has totally changed directions, but that is for another blog post) I have been reading through the histories of Mary Washington. Today, as I was reading through I gasped when I saw the heading, “Faulkner Speaks”. William Faulkner, one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century, here at little old Mary Washington (College). I could not believe it. I fell in love with Faulkner when I took a seminar on him and Toni Morrison in 2008. At the time, I was learning to think like a historian (or really just learning to think, thanks liberal arts degree!) through my various classes at Mary Washington and the deep connection between literature and history kept my brain constantly on fire with “wow” moments. History is a story we tell ourselves about the past. Literature can also tell a story about our past. Through the creation of fictional narratives and characters whose experiences and personalities embodied the Southern myth (story/concept/idea/theme/history?) Faulkner was able take on the post-Civil War South in ways a straight-forward history book cannot.  There aren’t many historical “facts” in his stories, but there are a lot of truths.

The blurb in the book about Faulkner is short, but there was a footnote at the bottom identifying the school’s newspaper (The Bullet) as the source. Lucky for me most of The Bullet editions have been digitized and are up on the Internet Archive. Shockingly, Faulkner’s visit was not enough to make the first page. I guess he hadn’t quite reached legendary status in 1957.

Click the image to see it in more detail at the Internet Archive.

According to the paper Faulkner spent some time as the writer-in-residence at the University of Virginia. During this time Mary Washington was affiliated with the University of Virginia as the liberal arts college for women. Curious to see if there were any more details I could find out about Faulkner’s visit I did a quick search and found the Faulkner at Virginia: An Audio Archive. It is a treasure-trove of Faulkner audio that I had never seen before! It appears this went up in 2010, which explains why I did not come across it during the seminar I took in 2008. I scrolled through the collection, giddy with excitement, and found the audio of Faulkner’s visit to Mary Washington broken up in to two parts. The page with the audio and the transcript for tape 1 can be found here and the audio and the transcript for tape 2 can be found here. I could not get the audio on the tape 2 page to work, but I managed to find it buried in the site (yes, I’ve contacted someone about the problem). It already appears to be fixed. That was quite fast, so thanks to whoever at U of VA got right on it!

Below are direct links to both the first and second audio tapes.

At MWC Tape 1 – April 25th, 1957

At MWC Tape 2 – April 25th, 1957

They are worth a listen both for Faulkner’s reading of “Shingles of the Lord” and the Q&A at the end.

Just six years ago, when I took the Faulkner seminar, neither The Bullet newspaper nor the Faulkner audio archive were available freely online. What was previously buried is now more easily discovered and shared. Faulkner’s visit to Mary Washington is no longer just a blurb in a book on our shelves. Sure, maybe all these pieces could have been brought together many years ago by going to the physical archives and scanning and transcribing. But to think in 2014 I can sit at my computer and within ten minutes I had it all. How cool is that?

Think Local, Write Stories

…the world is full of people now who are doing what I just said, seeing something that needs to be done and starting to do it, without the government’s permission, or official advice, or expert advice, or applying for grants or anything else. They just start doing it. -Wendell Berry, Interview with Bill Moyers

I attended the OpenVA conference at the University of Mary Washington and my mind has been spinning on all different levels; from the big picture down to the nitty-gritty day to day activities. There are a multitude of things one could take away from a conference like OpenVA, so I can only speak about the ideas that I will carry with me.

Ultimately, at the end of the day, people matter. Change and innovation happen when a group of people get together, grab their tools and get to work. I recently watched Bill Moyers interview of the legendary Wendell Berry. Wendell Berry, as Wikipedia puts it, “is an American novelist, poet, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer.” I highly recommend reading Berry and I additionally recommend the blog of Michael Doyle whose writing introduced me to Wendell Berry. One point Berry repeatedly comes back to is the idea that what makes the difference is a group of committed local people seeing a need and pushing and pulling until things start to happen. I’ve seen this philosophy in action at UMW and I see it in action at other schools in Virginia. It reminds me of that famous quote that one should “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” I’ve been at my job at UMW’s Library for almost 4 months now and I feel challenged to reach out to my colleagues here in the library and even more importantly reach out to the students that I manage. This conviction that I need to grab on to people and trust that we can cause change is not one I acquiesce to easily. People and relationships are messy. A wonderful and terrifying truth all at once. I’m trying, as Gardner Campbell challenged us, to “assume good faith“.

The second and equally important point I have taken away with me is one that I’ve come to again and again (and again and again); it is the value of story-telling. We need to be narrating the work we are doing. Humans understand the world through the stories and metaphors we construct. We crave and need stories to make sense of our world. In my life the work of Alan Levine and Barbara Ganley are constant reminders of this. When Alan shares his stories I find myself seeking out the stories and connections in my own life too. When Barbara shares the story telling projects of various groups and communities I find myself in awe of the vast richness and complexity of the human experience. Narrating ones work, even the mundane day to day, isn’t just an activity we should do so we can have things to put on our annual review, we should do it because we are human! Most (I want to say all) of us are already sharing our stories in one way or another. Whether it is with a friend over the phone or with some co-workers at lunch, we share our stories. The next step is to make those stories open and available for more than just a few people.

There are many more details and ideas still rolling around in my brain from OpenVA, but I’m attempting to take my own and advice and share my story before self-doubt can take hold. People and stories. People and stories. We are all people with stories.