Dean Faulkner Wells died today. The name, aside from the stand-out Faulkner, may not mean anything to you, but once I say she was the niece, and last living relative to have personally known William Faulkner, I expect I'll have your attention.
Wells, along with her husband Larry, founded Yoknapatawpha Press, a very small publisher with a very small catalog, including their own publications. Earlier this year, Random House published her book Everyday by the Sun: A Memoir of the Faulkners of Mississippi, which I'd pre-ordered through Amazon and read as soon as I'd removed it from the packaging. It wasn't written in what I'd term a highly literary style, but my expectations her uncle's miraculous writing would rub off on her were ridiculous in the first place. That sort of talent isn't one passed along in the genes.
However, what she didn't have in literary style she had in memories, and a willingness to share. I felt moved by her book, grateful she'd written it, creating a new window into the life of a writer so iconic to me I can't express it properly.
I thought myself cheeky when I emailed her asking for a brief interview, and thrilled when she said yes. I sweated over the questions, not wanting to ask anything too complex, anything demanding a long, drawn-out answer that would annoy her. But the greedy impulse to obtain a scoop was there, as well, the wish she'd throw out something that hadn't made it into the book. I won't lie.
She answered my questions, though in such a brief, cursory style I felt irritated. I'd spent so much time biting my nails, hoping she'd come through and reply, and what I got back could best be described as terse. So I sat on them, too intimidated to ask for more, and too disappointed to decide I'd go ahead and post them here.
Today I heard she'd died, following a stroke. My immediate feeling was sorrow, following quickly by regret and a touch of shame I hadn't appreciated her effort, knowing she was a busy woman and had more on her agenda than answering my questions.
Wherever she is now, I'd like her to know I'm sorry and humbled.
Following is the interview in full, very late but I hope better than never.
Ms. Wells, thank you for everything.
An Interview With Dean Faulkner Wells
Well, it's not a biography, actually, but an autobiography which includes my family. As the last surviving member of my generation I felt a responsibility to write down my memories lest they be lost.
2). So many accounts about WF state he was anti-social to the point of rudeness. Did he truly detest receiving so much attention, or was he misunderstood?
Pappy was pleasant when he wanted to be. Sometimes he seemed to enjoy the attention, but most of the time he preferred his privacy.
2). If you had to name one stand-out memory about WF, what would that be?
I loved to see him sitting quietly on the gallery at Rowan Oak smoking his pipe, lost in thought.
3). Which of your uncle's novels is your favorite, and why?
Absalom, Absalom! - because it is at once the most difficult and the most rewarding.
3). Why do you think Mississippi, and the Deep South in general, have turned out some of the finest writers in America's history?
The oral story-telling tradition that is so embedded in Mississippi's culture.
4). What is it about Mississippi that seems to have such a hold on readers? Why are books set in the South (some written by northern writers) about the South so popular?
The tragedy of slavery and racism and violence combined with the comic relief of manners.
5). Have you written other books? Ever tried your hand at fiction?
"The Ghosts of Rowan Oak: William Faulkner's Ghost Stories for Children"
and another children's story, "Belle Duck at the Peabody"
6). How long did it take to do all the research involved in your book?
Two years, give or take.
7). Do you feel you communicated everything you wanted to tell, or have you since remembered stories or anecdotes you wish you'd included?
There is a great deal I wish I had included.
8) What were some of your sources? And your biggest challenges?
I drew mostly on memory, personal experience and interviews. The biggest challenge was getting started.
9). What prompted you to form your own private press? How many titles have you published?
My husband Larry began working for Yoknapatawpha Press as an editor in 1976. We bought the press from the founder, Howard Duvall, in 1979. We've published 35 titles.
10). Who are your personal favorite writers? Have you read anything lately you'd recommend?
Cormac McCarthy, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Margaret Atwood, Charles Portis. Recently, Howard Norman's "What is Left the Daughter"
11). Are you planning to write any more books? Are you working on anything currently?
My husband and I are planning to write a non-fiction book together.