Teaching Faulkner in Oxford, Mississippi

Photos by Nathan Makela

On Saturday, a group of 11 Colorado College students, along with Professor Barry Sarchett, travelled to Mississippi to study the renowned 20th century author William Faulkner in his hometown of Oxford. Students in the class range from first-years to seniors, and majors range from physics to English. The class will continue to spend the week in Oxford studying Faulkner’s work in the place that so drastically informed his writing.

“I think it’s so cool to visit Oxford while reading Faulkner,” said senior Grace Geracioti. “It’s much easier to read Faulkner when you don’t have to imagine the place he’s writing about. He writes that the air is sweet, and then you get here, and it actually is.”

Sarchett offers the class about every two years, and has spent considerable time studying Faulkner during his academic career. While in Oxford, the class spends the majority of its time reading and discussing “Absalom, Absalom!” which Faulkner published in 1936 and is considered by many to be his finest work.

Sarchett’s wife, Professor Lisa Hughes, and CC’s Dean of Students and VP of Student Life, Mike Edmonds, also traveled to Mississippi with the class. Oxford is home to the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss), where Edmonds earned his bachelor of arts, masters, and Ph.D. As a result of Edmonds’ connections with Ole Miss, the class has had the opportunity to conduct class in Faulkner’s home at Rowan Oak, a Greek Revival style house which Faulkner purchased in the 1930s and lived in until his death in 1962. The house is now owned by Ole Miss. Inside the house, many of Faulkner’s possessions still remain, including his typewriter, much of his original library, and an original draft of “A Fable” written on the walls of his former study.

“Being in the house is a plus, definitely, but being around in the town where he would have been observing and getting his actual inspiration is more fruitful,” said first-year Maddie McCann, an English major.

In addition to class every morning, the Faulkner students have visited the Mississippi Delta and the Delta Blues Museum, the famous Taylor Grocery, a former sharecropping plantation, and various other historical monuments around Oxford.

Though much of the class’ time has been spent reading and discussing Faulkner, many students have commented on the culture of Oxford in relation to Colorado Springs and their own hometowns. Students in the class come from a collection of locations across the country, including Brooklyn, N.Y., Seattle, Denver, and Miami.

“One thing I’ve noticed is that people in Oxford, especially the older generation, are a lot more passionate about their personal or family history,” said sophomore Braeden Yeo, another English major. “They seem a lot more reminiscent of the past, and seem more wistful about the ‘good old days.’”

“Faulkner’s stories are all based off of oral storytelling tradition, and everyone we have met has told us stories,” said Geracioti. “I love that everyone calls me ‘baby’ and ‘sweetheart.”

“I’m going to need a lot more than a sentence,” said sophomore Spencer Miller, also an English major, when asked to provide a sentence or two about his observations in Oxford.

No students in the class hail from any cities traditionally considered “the South.” In fact, most of the students had never even visited it before. Other students commented on Oxford’s thriving bar scene, the stark difference in people’s clothing style, and of course, the humidity. One student even shaved his head because the heat and humidity was so overwhelming for him.

The class flies back to Colorado Springs on Saturday night, but the students still have one more Faulkner novel to read before the end of the class. Many of the students in the class have argued that the trip to Mississippi is one that a lot of CC students should, and even need, to take.

“I think many CC students associate the South with Republicans and ignorance, but I have found it very important to acknowledge and interact with the range of people and places here,” said Geracioti.

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