As a novelist, short story author, screenwriter, and Nobel laureate, William Faulkner looms large in modern American literature. Yet the very range of his work and the sources for his rich literary worlds often defy easy assessment. In The Life of William Faulkner: The Past Is Never Dead, 1897-1934
(University of Virginia Press, 2020), Carl Rollyson
uses both an extensive range of archival collections and Faulkner’s wide-ranging literary output to assess the author’s life and the development of his many famous works. Growing up in Mississippi, young William absorbed his family’s tales and the larger history of the region to which it was tied. Yet it took Faulkner’s journeys outside of his community – first to Canada to train as a pilot for the Royal Air Force, then his extended visits to New York and Europe – to gain the perspective necessary to best use them in his writing. After an early foray into poetry Faulkner focused on writing prose, emerging by the end of the 1920s as an acclaimed author of novels and short stories. As Rollyson shows, this fame brought Faulkner to Hollywood, where he demonstrated quickly his ability to write as well for the rapidly emerging medium of talking pictures.