Magical Realist Biographies: William Faulkner

284px-Faulkner_2_1954WILLIAM (CUTHBERT) FAULKNER


Born: September 25, 1897

Died:   July 6, 1962

Little known facts:

William Faulkner was living briefly in New Orleans, Louisiana where he wrote his first novel, Soldiers’ Pay in 1925—after being prompted by Sherwood Anderson to try writing fiction rather than poetry.

Faulkner actually detested the fame from his recognition to the point that his 17-year-old daughter only learned about the Nobel Prize when she was called to the principal’s office.




Much better known facts:

Falkner was his surname until 1924 when, according to one story, a careless typesetter made an error and a misprint appeared on the title page of his first book, a collection of poems. Apparently, the author had no concern about changing it.

Two Pulitzer Prizes were conferred for what most critics consider two of his lesser novels—A Fable (1954) and The Reivers (1962), awarded posthumously.

William Faulkner was an American short story writer, a novelist, and a Nobel Prize laureate from Oxford, Mississippi. He also wrote a play, poetry, essays and screenplays. His most notable works are his novels and short stories set in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, based on Lafayette County, Mississippi. His characters operate in a social framework that typifies the growth and subsequent decadence of the Deep South and reflect a century and a half of American history, spanning the decades from the American Civil War through the Depression.

Faulkner was born in New Albany, Mississippi, the first of four sons. The family moved and settled in Oxford in north-central Mississippi when he was a child. Though he traveled to Europe and Asia and worked for extended periods of time in Hollywood, Faulkner lived most of his life in that small town in Lafayette County.

While in high school, he began to write poetry, but he dropped out before graduating and went to work in a bank owned by one of his grandfathers. With the entry of the US into the Great War, Faulkner enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force after being rejected from the US Army because he was too short at five feet five inches. He completed basic training in Toronto, but the war ended before he could make his first solo flight. This never interfered with the storyteller relating years later how he had been shot down in France.

After the war, Faulkner studied literature at the University of Mississippi; he wrote poems and drew cartoons for the university’s humor magazine, The Scream. In 1920 Faulkner left Ole Miss without having finished a degree and moved to New York City where he worked as a clerk in a bookstore and lived in Greenwich Village, associating with other writers and artists. When he returned to Oxford, he began work as a postmaster at the University of Mississippi until the university fired him for reading on the job. The submissions to publishers and rejections finally came to an end. In May of 1924, Faulkner’s long-time friend Phil Stone sent a note to the Four Seas Company in Boston asking if they would publish a collection of poems by an unknown writer if the cost of publication were covered. After this first book, The Marble Faun (1924) did not gain success, he left for New Orleans specifically to meet established novelist Sherwood Anderson who took an interest in his work and encouraged him as indicated above to write fiction.


In July 1925, he left New Orleans for Genoa and Paris. During his four months stay in Europe, Faulkner toured the WWI battlefields and also spent ten days hiking in England. After the hiatus, he published Soldier’s Pay (1926), a novel about the return of a soldier, who had been physically and psychologically disabled in WW I followed shortly by Mosquitoes, a satire of Bohemian life in New Orleans.

In 1929 he had his first substantially successful work, The Sound and the Fury, published which earned him some long awaited recognition as a serious writer. In that same year, he married Estelle Oldham Franklin, whom he had courted seriously but unsuccessfully as an undergraduate, after she divorced her first husband. During that year he wrote the first of fifteen novels set in his notional Mississippi. His series deals with racism, class division, and family—as both a life force and a curse—as recurring themes.

The next year he purchased a traditional pillared house in Oxford, which he named Rowan Oak. Many years later, after his passing and the passing of his wife, it was sold to the University of Mississippi and made into a museum.

While working the nightshift at an electrical power station, Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying (1930)—now considered one of the best English-language novels of the 20th Century.

He dedicated Sanctuary (1931) to Sherwood Anderson “for services rendered,” and, according to the author, it was “deliberately conceived to make money.”


In order to support Estelle and their three children, Faulkner had to work for the next twenty years in Hollywood on several screenplays, from Today We Live (1933) to Land of the Pharaohs (1955). Ironically, the conservative producers considered Faulkner’s stories too daring for film with all their rape, incest, and suicide; and in the publishing world, his Light in August (1932) was initially rejected, but is now also considered one of the best novels in the century.

While engaged in scriptwriting, Faulkner published several other novels: Pylon (1934) and Absalom, Absalom! (1936)—now often considered one of the best novels of the 20th Century and Faulkner’s fourth on that Modern Library list.

By 1945, Faulkner’s novels were out of print and he moved to Hollywood again to write scripts, mostly under contract to director Howard Hawks who had read Faulkner’s 1926 novel Soldier’s Pay when it first appeared.

He worked with Hawks on the films To Have and Have Not (1944), based on Ernest Hemingway’s novel, and The Big Sleep (1946), based on Raymond Chandler’s novel. When Hemingway had turned down Howard Hawk’s offer to work with his own book, the director said, “I’ll get Faulkner to do it; he can write better than you can anyway.”

Faulkner had a second period of success beginning with the publication of The Portable Faulkner (1946). However, his physical and mental functioning started to decline, forwarded downslope by his hard drinking and coping with his wife’s drug addiction.

He published Requiem for a Nun in 1951, and A Fable in 1954. The Town (1957) and The Mansion (1959) continued the story of the Snopes family, which he had begun in The Hamlet (1940).


Faulkner was a Writer-in-Residence at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville from February to June 1957 and held that position again in 1958. He suffered serious injuries in a horse-riding accident in 1959, and died from a myocardial infarction on July 6, 1962, at Wright’s Sanatorium in Byhalia, Mississippi. He is buried along with his family in St. Peter’s Cemetery in Oxford.

William Faulkner’s works have been placed within the literary traditions of modernism and the Southern Renaissance. However, he is also cited in the biographies of flagrantly successful magical realists such as Gabriel García Márquez as very significant to their careers because he dared to experiment and depart from convention in modernist work. This view was shared within the literary circle called el grupo de Barranquilla (journalists Gabriel García Márquez, Álvaro Cepeda Samudio, Germán Vargas, and Alfonso Fuenmayor who all became respected novelists or poets) that set about reading the work of Hemingway, Joyce, Woolf, and most importantly, Faulkner.


Perhaps it was Faulkner’s disappointment in the initial rejection of Flags in the Dust that drove him to become less responsive to his publishers and to take on a more experimental style. In any case, Garcia Marquez acknowledges Faulkner and Sophocles as the two most leveraged influences impacting his work. Faulkner amazed García Márquez with his ability to create from his childhood experiences a mythical past, inventing a town and a county in which to frame the actions of his characters. García Márquez found the seeds for his Macondo in Faulkner’s mythical Yoknapatawpha. It is also clear that they admired his use of internal monologue, very long sentences and other techniques considered experimental at the time.


Faulkner’s detailed realism occasionally is punctuated with scenes and moments of very effective magical realism. One such event is found in his short story “The Old People.” The setting is very similar to the much-anthologized “The Bear” where men from several ethnicities and levels of Southern society are all engaged in ritual hunting and prankstering amongst males. During a ritual hunt involving many of the same characters in “The Old People,” there is a coming-of-age ritual for a boy being taught to hunt. The boy is concerned about what seems to him beyond the realm of the real world in his experience. When he relates this to his cousin McCaslin, he finds that his cousin had been brought through this same path by the same man. Their common experience is not easily explained—except to those reared near or in rural cultures, including Native American cultures from which the notion of using natural resources reverently and without waste springs. Specifically, a huge buck that appeared and stood unafraid before the boy and the Native American Sam Feathers soon after the boy had taken his first buck and had been marked by Sam with the blood of the smaller buck as having been worthy of taking a life and having taken that life carefully and respectfully. This kind of blurring of “realities” and the prompting of alternative perceptions is Faulkner’s brand of magic realism.


Faulkner was regarded as a relatively obscure writer until he received the 1949 Nobel Prize in Literature. Then nearly a half century later in 1998, the Modern Library ranked his 1929 novel The Sound and the Fury sixth on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. Absalom, Absalom! is often found on these lists and is usually cited as his masterpiece over The Sound and the Fury when discussing his body of work and not a comparative list.


Faulkner donated part of the Nobel Prize to establish a fund to support what became the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, and donated another part to establish a scholarship fund to educate African-American teachers at Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi.



“The writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then. Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency, security, happiness, all, to get the book written. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is worth any number of old ladies.” (Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews, 1959)


“I’m a failed poet. Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can’t, and then tries the short story, which is the most demanding form after poetry. And, failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing.”


“Hemingway has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”



The New York Times cited his critics in his obituary: “Mr. Faulkner’s writings showed an obsession with murder, rape, incest, suicide, greed and general depravity that did not exist anywhere but in the author’s mind”. (July 7, 1962)


Nobel writer J.M. Coetzee defined Faulkner not only as “the most radical innovator in the annals of American fiction,” but “a writer to whom the avant-garde of Europe and Latin America would go to school.” (The New York Review of Books, April 7, 2005)



The Sound and the Fury (1929), Sanctuary (1931), Light in August (1932), Absalom, Absalom! (1936), The Hamlet (1940), Intruder In the Dust (1948), Requiem For A Nun (1951, Collected Stories (1951) National Book Award, A Fable (1954) National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize, The Town (1957), The Mansion (1959), and The Reivers (1962) Pulitzer Prize (posthumously.)



Nobel Prize in Literature (1949)

France’s Chevalier de la Legion d’honneur (1951)

National Book Award for Fiction (1951, 1955)

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (1954, 1962)

American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medal for Fiction (1962)



Eric R. Kandel. The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain From Vienna 1900 to the Present. New York: Random House, 2012.

The New York Review of Books, July 7, 1962

The New York Review of Books, April 7, 2005

Horst Frenz (ed.) Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901-1967, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969.

Petri Liukkonen. “On William Faulkner,” from Pegasos Author’s Calendar.

Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews, 1959.


Richard Perkins is a regular contributor to The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review and a graduate of The Johns Hopkins University MA in Writing Program. He is writing an historical novel and revising a collection of connected stories.


Magical Realist Biographies: Gabriel Garc

Magical Realist Biographies: Gabriel Garc

Born: 6 March 1927
Died: 17 April 2014

Little known facts:
Gabriel García Márquez developed his extraordinary premise for his novel Love in the Time of Cholera by adapting the actual tragic comedy of his maternal grandparents’ attempts to discourage the intense courtship of his mother by his father.

His mother’s father explained to him there was no greater burden than to have killed a man, demonstrated early on in One Hundred Years of Solitude when José Arcadio Buendía leaves town with his family and friends after having killed a man.

Much better known facts:
He was known affectionately as “Gabo” throughout Latin America.

Some of his works are set in a fictional village called Macondo—inspired by Aracataca where he was born and raised until he was eight—that provides the location for multiple large-scale magical realist clashes of cultures and civilizations.

García Márquez won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982.

Gabriel García Márquez was one of the great writers in Western literature in the Twentieth Century and perhaps the most celebrated writer of Magical Realism of his time. He often declared he was a journalist who also wrote fiction and, as a consequence, he saw reality as his central theme. In his fiction, Marquez avoided easily discernable plot structures and forced his readers to actively engage in order to derive essential details because, like the dramas of Sophocles whom Gabo admired, much of the action happened off stage. His fiction probes the themes of the violent realities of Colombian history—particularly the War of a Thousand Days (1899-1902) and the Banana Massacre of 1928 that his grandfather experienced and La Violencia (1946-1958) that he experienced—and various forms of solitude found in geographical, political, social, and individual isolation. Solitude was the theme in his acceptance speech for his Nobel Prize, entitled “Solitude of Latin America” and is quoted in part below.

García Márquez said that his early works (that he called a kind of premeditated literature) reflected the reality of life in Colombia and provides the rational structure of his books, though in retrospect he declares it “too static and exclusive a vision of reality.” His later work shows experimentation with alternative means of reflecting and re-reflecting reality, drawing on a story telling style his maternal grandmother used to describe bizarre details “with the deadpan expression.” He is universally recognized as one of the four leaders of the Latin American Boom along with Julio Cortázar, Carlos Fuentes, and Mario Vargas Llosa. He consistently acknowledged his debts to precursors like Jorge Luis Borges, Miguel Ángel Asturias, Arturo Uslar Pietri and Alejo Carpentier, Juan Carlos Onetti, and Juan Rulfo.

Gabriel was born in Aracataca in coastal Northern Colombia. His father had dropped out of medical school, had very Conservative views, and had four children out of wedlock before the courtship began. His mother’s father, a Liberal veteran of the War of a Thousand Days was a retired colonel who had actively interfered with Garcia’s father’s courtship of his mother as alluded to above. Despite his profile, his father’s persistence eventually wore down the colonel’s objections and the marriage was allowed, resulting soon afterward in the birth of Gabriel—the first of twelve children.

Gabo lived with his maternal grandparents in Aracataca until he was eight. His grandmother provided him with a deep background of folkloric knowledge including omens, premonitions, dead ancestors, and ghosts—most of which his grandfather dismissed as “women’s talk.” However, the sincere manner in which she told her stories had a lasting effect on the mature writings of García Márquez who used that deadpan style thirty years later in the crafting of his most acclaimed novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude.

When his grandfather died in 1936, Gabriel was returned to the custody of his parents for a short time before being sent to boarding school. Then the Jesuit Liceo Nacional, in the city of Zipaquira near Bogotá, gave García Márquez a scholarship when he was fourteen. He graduated from that secondary school in 1946, intending to prepare for a career in journalism. However, his family insisted Gabriel study law at the National University of Colombia in Bogotá instead. Marquez detested this prescribed field of study and invested himself in writing. In 1947, the literary supplement of El Espectador published one of Marquez’s short stories—the first of ten they would print.

In 1948, Jorge Eliecer Gaitan Ayala, a prominent Colombian Liberal Party member, was assassinated, prompting a decade long period known as La Violencia, engulfing every Colombian, taking the lives of over two hundred thousand, and leading to the departure of over one million Colombians to neighboring countries. In the second year of the conflict, the National University of Colombia closed and García Márquez relocated to the University of Cartagena, continuing his legal studies, writing pieces of journalism, but never completing his degree.

In 1950, Gabriel García Márquez relocated to Barranquilla where he wrote columns for the daily El Heraldo. He lived in a small room in a four-story brothel and consumed literature that inspired his later work: Virginia Woolf, Sophocles, William Faulkner, Franz Kafka, James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway. He wrote his first novella and later revised it as La Hojarasca or The Leaf Storm. In 1955, friends found the manuscript and had it published. That first novella echoed William Faulkner’s gothic tone and complex structure, and it was his first use of the village of Macondo.
García Marquez returned to Bogotá in 1954 and found a position at El Espectador as a reporter and film reviewer. Not long afterward, his work exposed government ineptitude and corruption including the wreck of a ship, irritating the Colombian dictator Gustavo Rojas Pinilla. (In 1989, this story was published in English as The Story of the Shipwrecked Sailor.) El Espectador, fearing backlash from the government, sent García Márquez to Europe as a foreign correspondent. While Gabo was in Europe, the government closed El Espectador, pushing him into poverty conditions far from home. Even so, while working days at a survival level, he still spent his nights writing fiction.

In 1957, Gabriel García Márquez finished writing El Coronel No Tiene Quien Le Escriba or No One Writes to the Colonel. He then relocated to Caracas and found work at the magazine Momento.

In 1958, he married Mercedes Barcha Pardo in Barranquilla and left immediately to return to Caracas with his bride. Their first son was born in 1959.

In 1959, García Márquez founded a Bogotá branch of the Cuban press agency Prensa Latina and in 1961, he moved to New York City to work in the Prensa Latina office there. That same year, he traveled to New Orleans and then moved his young family to Mexico City. In Mexico City, he worked as a screenwriter while working on his novels. The newly established Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency recruited Gabo in 1967 to be the Latin American Editor, but soon after the agreement, he arrived at the major inflection point of his life before he could take that position.

In January of 1965, Gabo had been driving his family to Acapulco from Mexico City, turning over in his head a book he had been trying to write about Aracataca—as Macondo. It suddenly struck him that he had to tell the story of Macondo in the same tone with which his grandmother had told him stories. He stopped the car and turned around, postponing the family vacation and going home to isolate himself for the next year and a half writing the story of Macondo while his wife managed the household, kept him fed, and sold belongings to buy him the paper and ink he needed. They had to borrow the money for the postage needed for mailing the final chapters to the publisher in Argentina. That is the scenario played out in generation after generation in Macondo within the Buendía Family in One Hundred Years—a visionary pursuing something elusive backed up by the committed realist who loves him or her in spite of the stumbles along the way.

Then in 1967, that Editorial Sudamericana in Buenos Aires, Argentina, published One Hundred Years of Solitude. It was immediately successful, selling all 8000 copies in a week and one half million in the next three years and leading to international prizes including the French Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger, the Italian Premio Chianciano, the American Neustadt Prize, and Venezuelan Romulo Gallegos Prize. At the time of his passing, there had been 50 million copies sold in 25 languages.

Gabriel García Márquez moved his family to Barcelona, Spain, continued to write, and by 1973, returned to political activism. He supported many left wing causes in Latin America and, in the process, realigned himself with the Communist Cuban government. This resulted in the United States Department of State preventing him from entering United States without special permission.

García Márquez returned to Columbia in 1974 and created the newspaper Alternativa in Bogotá. He published the novel The Autumn of the Patriarch about a dictator ruthlessly holding on to power in a Caribbean nation.

When Belisario Betencur became the president of Colombia, he asked Garcia Marquez to return and offered him several political appointments, all of which were rejected. He did return home and continued to consider himself a journalist who wrote fiction. To reinforce that, he created the Foundation for a New Ibero-American Journalism in Cartagena, which received UNESCO funds for helping young journalists learn the craft of journalism.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s literary and journalistic work declined after he was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer in 1999. He passed away at his home in Mexico City in April of 2014. By all accounts, he still saw his work as part of a tradition of Latin American literature and considered his Nobel Prize to be a late acknowledgement of the greatness of Latin American literature.


“My grandfather the Colonel was a Liberal. My political ideas probably came from him to begin with because, instead of telling me fairy tales when I was young, he would regale me with horrifying accounts of the last civil war that free-thinkers and anti-clerics waged against the Conservative government.”

“Most critics don’t realize that a novel like One Hundred Years of Solitude is a bit of a joke, full of signals to close friends; and so, with some pre-ordained right to pontificate they take on the responsibility of decoding the book and risk making terrible fools of themselves.”

“The country that could be formed of all the exiles and forced emigrants of Latin America
would have a population larger than that of Norway.

I dare to think that it is this outsized reality, and not just its literary expression, that has deserved the attention of the Swedish Academy of Letters. A reality not of paper, but one that lives within us and determines each instant of our countless daily deaths, and that nourishes a source of insatiable creativity, full of sorrow and beauty, of which this roving and nostalgic Colombian is but one cipher more, singled out by fortune.”


Carlos Fuentes, Mexico’s greatest novelist, claimed that Gabriel García Márquez was “the most popular and perhaps best writer in Spanish since [Miguel de] Cervantes.”

“He writes with impassioned control, out of a maniacal serenity: the Garcíamárquesian voice we have come to recognize from the other fiction has matured, found and developed new resources, been brought to a level where it can at once be classical and familiar, opalescent and pure, able to praise and curse, laugh and cry, fabulate and sing and when called upon, take off and soar . . .” — NYT April 10, 1988

Juan Manuel Santos, the President of Colombia, described him as the “the greatest Colombian who ever lived” just after his death in April 2014 as reported by BBC.


The Story of the Shipwrecked Sailor (1954), No One Writes to the Colonel (1957), One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), The Autumn of the Patriarch (1975), Love in the Time of Cholera (1985)


1972 Neustadt International Prize for Literature
1982 Nobel Prize in Literature
French Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger
Italian Premio Chianciano
American Neustadt Prize
Venezuelan Romulo Gallegos Prize



“A Review of Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera,” The New York Times, 10 April 1988.

Nobel Lectures, Literature 1981-1990, Editor-in-Charge Tore Frängsmyr, Editor Sture Allén, World Scientific Publishing Co., Singapore, 1993.


Richard Perkins is a regular contributor to The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review and a graduate of The Johns Hopkins University MA in Writing Program. He is researching the background for an historical novel set in Colombia between the world wars not very far from Macondo.