Louis Mayeux – LikeTheDew.com http://likethedew.com A journal of progressive Southern culture and politics Wed, 19 Sep 2018 10:58:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 http://likethedew.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/cropped-DewLogoSquare825-32x32.png Louis Mayeux – LikeTheDew.com http://likethedew.com 32 32 Noel Polk: Faulkner ‘continues to amaze’ http://likethedew.com/2010/07/27/noel-polk-faulkner-%e2%80%98continues-to-amaze%e2%80%99/ http://likethedew.com/2010/07/27/noel-polk-faulkner-%e2%80%98continues-to-amaze%e2%80%99/#comments Tue, 27 Jul 2010 20:06:57 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=10470 The pre-eminent Faulkner scholar Dr. Noel Polk is likely more familiar with the great Mississippi writer's work than anyone. He has edited corrected versions of all of Faulkner's books.

Noel consulted Faulkner's original typescripts to correct editorial changes made when the books were first published. Because of Noel's painstaking work, readers now have Faulkner's masterful novels close to how he originally wrote them.

I met Noel at the recent Faulkner & Film Conference at Ole Miss


The pre-eminent Faulkner scholar Dr. Noel Polk is likely more familiar with the great Mississippi writer’s work than anyone. He has edited corrected versions of all of Faulkner’s books.

As explained below, Noel consulted Faulkner’s original typescripts to correct editorial changes made when the books were first published. Because of Noel’s painstaking work, readers now have Faulkner’s masterful novels close to how he originally wrote them.

I briefly met Noel at the recent Faulkner & Film Conference at Ole Miss, where he and other Faulkner scholars swapped stories about the great man while enjoying drinks and the sultry evening  at a bar overlooking the square that Faulkner made famous. As they matched the square’s landmarks with Faulkner’s writing, the last pages of “The Sound and the Fury” came alive in my mind’s eye. A genial and gregarious storyteller, Noel fascinated me with his knowledge of Faulker’s life and work.

The editor of Mississippi Quarterly, Noel lives in Starkville, the home of Mississippi State. In the following interview, he talks about his lifelong calling of restoring Faulkner’s work as he intended it to be read.

1. You’ve edited the corrected texts of Faulkner’s work for the Library of America and Modern Library. Could you briefly describe the necessity of these corrections and the editing process?

Most of the “corrections” I made were simply to restore what Faulkner wrote as against what editors changed that to. For most of the novels what they changed was minor — punctuation, some Southernisms, some typing errors — nothing that is going to drastically change the way we read the novels.

The editors of Absalom, Absalom!, however, made massive alterations, deleting dozens of passages of sometimes 10 lines or more, altered punctuation to shorten some of his long sentences, and, for example, clarified deliberately ambiguous relative pronoun antecedents because, as they note in the margins, they couldn’t figure out what kinds of challenges Faulkner was presenting in the new novel. Since he preserved the typescript that the editors worked from, it was pretty easy to restore those cuts and make an Absalom more nearly what Faulkner wrote.

Those same editors denied Faulkner his title If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem in favor of The Wild Palms because, they told him, Absalom had been such a bust in the bookstores and they didn’t want to risk another novel with a biblical title; Faulkner was furious (one of the very few times he actually objected to an editorial decision), but had no choice but to accede.

More difficult was the task of reconstructing Flags in the Dust from the probably preliminary typescript (not the setting copy that he submitted to his publishers), which Douglas Day used in the early 1970s to produce a text of Flags; but that Flags did not factor in the portions of Sartoris that clearly Faulkner had written, revisions of the extant preliminary typescript. Most of his novels were published in astonishingly clean and accurate texts, so that the editorial “corrections” I did in all 19 novels involved simply cleaning up some of the problems they and sometimes typesetters caused. Random House, except in this instance, was very professional and responsible in getting his works into print: They printed the complicated part 4 of “The Bear” in Go Down, Moses immaculately.

The Library of America undertook, with Random House’s cooperation, to make Faulkner the first in-copyright author to appear in the series, and after consulting with me on a problem in the text of As I Lay Dying, asked me to co-edit the Faulkner series with Joseph Blotner; I prepared the texts and he did the chronology and the annotations. The Library seems to have already made the decision to base the new Faulkner texts in the typescripts that he had preserved, perhaps partly because I had already produced new texts of Absalom and The Sound and the Fury for Random House. Though I had worked with his typescripts for years, when we began the “corrected texts” (Random House’s term for those first two texts), I really had no idea what kinds of “corrections” would be necessary in the other texts, so the whole project was a kind of adventure, that kept me off the streets, that kept me from drinking too much beer in the afternoons with colleagues; but overall I am happy to say that now the entire oeuvre of his novels are in print in texts that are as close to what Faulkner wrote—warts, perhaps, and all—as it’s possible to have.

2. The corrected texts recall publication of corrected versions of Joyce’s “Ulyssses,” but problems with “Ulysses” seem more understandable, since he was working with French printers. Is Faulkner unusual among American writers published by U.S. publishing houses in requiring such extensive corrections? Is it because of the perceived difficulty of his work?

Well, see above. The editors had difficulties with Absalom, as indeed do we all, but he was not alone among American authors who had to deal with editors — Max Perkins famously reduced Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel to manageable publishable proportions, for example, and the more recent notorious revelations of how his editor rewrote Raymond Carver’s stories; and Robert Penn Warren’s editors at Harcourt simply mutilated the text of All the King’s Men.

To be absolutely fair, I should point out that editors and publishing houses have to think of books as marketable artifacts: They have to make a profit in order for us to have books at all. If they sometimes made bad decisions in what we now consider high art, we have to remember that they at least at some level have to think about how to pay their own —and their authors’ — bills.

3. At the recent “Faulkner & Film” conference, I was excited and encouraged to find  how vital Faulkner’s work is for young scholars and readers. Why does he have such an enduring appeal?

People say, with reason, that all of the 19th century is in Moby-Dick. I think that all of the 20th century is in Faulkner: his work is a kaleidoscope: look through it toward the light and the many-colored pieces of glass form a beautiful pattern; turn it half a degree one direction or another and that same colored glass forms itself into yet another beautiful perfectly organized pattern. So whether you approach Faulkner from the point of view of race, gender, psychology, history, the books present a brilliantly organized pattern of observation and commentary. After 45 years of intensive study of his work, I’m still discovering new stuff to talk and think about and to thrill over. Besides all that, they are damned good stories.

4. After the conference, I read for the first time “If I Forget Thee Jerusalem” (“The Wild Palms”). The book is quite a departure from his Yoknapatawpha-based novels and stories and successfully uses elements of pulp fiction and even Westerns. The scenes in Chicago, New Orleans and the Utah mining camp are convincing, along with the depictions of the Mississippi River flood. The book reaffirms my amazement at Faulkner’s versatility. With his movie work and openness to different genres, do you consider him unusually adaptable for a major writer?

Yes, he continues to amaze.

5. At the conference, “Absalom, Absalom” appeared to receive the most critical comment, especially because of its links with Faulkner’s Hollywood experience. Is “Absalom, Absalom” now considered his greatest work?

Yes, although my favorite novel is always the one I happen to be reading at the time; to me, they are all infinitely fascinating. I’m confident that A Fable is a greater book than the Faulkner field is willing to grant and that eventually we will understand it for what it is. Faulkner said it would take us 50 years to understand it; perhaps he meant 150!

6.   Faulkner seems comparable to Shakespeare and Dickens. Like them, Faulkner doesn’t shy away from sensationalism to appeal to a common audience, while achieving artistic grandeur. Along with them, he created an astonishing cast of major and minor characters, and found universality in the particular. Is Faulkner the American writer most like Shakespeare and Dickens?

For me, that’s an inarguable proposition, and for the reasons you give — the number and variety of unforgettable characters and situations.

7.   What projects are you working on now, whether involving Faulkner or other writers such as Eudora Welty?

Though I’ve been retired from teaching for nearly two years now, I’m staying busy, still editing The Mississippi Quarterly and still entertaining invitations to lecture and teach. Also reading a shipload of murder mysteries!

This story also appears on Louis Mayeux’s blog, Southern Bookman: http://louismayeux.typepad.com/

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Kenny Leon: “Go deeper into the play” http://likethedew.com/2010/06/04/kenny-leon-go-deeper-into-the-play/ http://likethedew.com/2010/06/04/kenny-leon-go-deeper-into-the-play/#respond Fri, 04 Jun 2010 23:24:55 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=9593 Kenny Leon's Broadway revival of August Wilson's "Fences" has drawn overwhelming audience support, critical acclaim and awards recognition. Nominated for a best director Tony award for the show, Leon in directing a stellar cast led by Denzel Washington and Viola Davis shows deep understanding of Wilson's language and characters. The production leaves no doubt that he is the foremost interpreter of Wilson's work.


Kenny Leon’s Broadway revival of August Wilson’s “Fences” has drawn overwhelming audience support, critical acclaim and awards recognition. Nominated for a best director Tony award for the show, Leon in directing a stellar cast led by Denzel Washington and Viola Davis shows deep understanding of Wilson’s language and characters. The production leaves no doubt that he is the foremost interpreter of Wilson’s work. The recipient of 10 Tony award nominations, including best actor and actress for Washingon and Davis, the play continues for several weeks at the Cort Theater on West 48th Street in Manhattan.

Previously in charge of Atlanta’s Alliance Theater, Leon splits his time as a director in New York with life in Atlanta as head of the True Colors Theatre Co. From a core interest on plays exploring the black experience, True Colors reaches toward a broader audience. The company’s production of Wilson’s “Jitney,” directed by Derrick Sanders, moves to the Alliance Theater Saturday, June 5.

En route to New York from Atlanta to do some pre-Tony Awards appearances, Leon paused to give a brief interview to Southern Bookman.

  1. Are you at all surprised at the success of “Fences?” That such a serious, traditional play has achieved such popularity on Broadway must be gratifying. I’m not surprised. It’s a very American play that has a great balance of humor and drama. I pulled all the humor out of it that I could. I’m very proud of it, proud to have such a wonderful cast. August Wilson would be proud of what’s on the stage.
  2. You have a special affinity for August Wilson’s work. The “Fences” revival reflects his stature as a major American playwright. What do you find significant in his work?He writes historical plays but doesn’t write history. He writes about specific decades, but they have universal impact. His genius was to focus on the specific but give it universal appeal and reach for all.
  3. In a recent interview, you expressed satisfaction that the revival of “Fences” that you directed has the most diverse audience on Broadway. When I saw the play, I was also struck by the diversity of the audience. Why does the play have such a broad appeal? Just about everybody has a family. Sometimes it may not be a traditional family. But every one has some sort of family, some sort of brother or friend, who may be facing challenges. All of us have parents. Any American alive with a beating heart should be able to open a door to visit that play.
  4. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis’ performances (along with those of the the rest of the cast) were wonderful.  How as a director did you help build such chemistry between them, especially since they didn’t know each other well previously? They had worked together on “Antwone Fisher,” the film. But this was a new thing for them. Their approach to the theater is very honest and very real. With them in this place, it was very easy for me navigate their performances. In rehearsal, I encouraged them to go deeper into the play. Denzel’s approach is very honest and truthful, and Viola has the same approach.
  5. Your True Colors Theatre takes its production of Wilson’s “Jitney” to Atlanta’s Alliance Theater on Saturday, June 5. Do you see the production, directed by Derrick Sanders, as complementing “Fences”? Are there any similarities between the plays? All of his plays come from same gene pool, but “Jitney” is definitely different from “Fences.” “Jitney” is his funniest play. It’s very different from “Fences,” but both are concerned with a father-and-son relationship. Both end when the father is dead, and the son has to decide how to move forward. But they are different plays.
  6. What’s coming up for you in the future, at True Colors and nationally? I hope to continue developing a wider audience for True Colors. I hope to continue tying my work in New York to the company in Atlanta. I hope to carry the brand of True Colors to New York. Last week, Samuel L. Jackson was in Atlanta for a reading, along with Jim Pickens of “Grey’s Anatomy.” I want to tie both of those worlds together.
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Complex portrait of Hank Aaron: ‘Last Hero’ http://likethedew.com/2010/05/26/complex-portrait-of-hank-aaron-last-hero/ http://likethedew.com/2010/05/26/complex-portrait-of-hank-aaron-last-hero/#comments Thu, 27 May 2010 02:33:08 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=9517

While the reputations of many baseball heroes lie shattered, Henry Aaron’s stature keeps rising. Now his truly remarkable American story is told in Howard Bryant’s “The Last Hero, A Life of Henry Aaron.”

Aaron rose from poverty in Jim Crow Mobile, Ala., to break Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record. As I was somewhat surprised to find out from Bryant’s book, he’s also at the top or near the top of most major offensive categories. Statistically, he’s the greatest hitter of all time.

What’s amazing is that he was a purely natural talent. When my son was involved with Little League, I watched parents pour hundreds of dollars into hiring hitting coaches, buying expensive bats, acquiring instructional videos and all the rest. Henry Aaron needed none of that; he knew how to hit with little if any coaching. Bryant makes a big deal out of his unusual style; he “hit off his front foot.” But, Roberto Clemente hit that way too, if I remember correctly, as did Rod Carew. Still, Bryant recounts several anecdotes of Ted Williams, the best all-time hitter in terms of technique, being amazed that Aaron could generate so much power with his apparent lack of a weight shift.

With very little education, and having grown up in the brutal world of white supremacy, Aaron first caught notice of pioneer black scout Ed Scott, who gave the young Aaron rudiemenitary instruction. Scott signed Aaron to the Negro League Indianapolis Clowns. The young Aaron stayed with the Clowns for a month before moving on to the Boston Braves, who would soon move to Milwaukee. Aaron thus holds the distinction of being the last Negro League player to make it in the Major Leagues.  Remarkably, the raw young man persevered in the Braves’ minor league system, overcoming acute home sickness and the desire to go back home to segregationist Mobile,  and quickly rose to the Major Leagues. He quickly blossomed into a star, leading the Milwaukee Braves to a 1957 World Series win over the Yankees and a repeat appearance in 1958, in which the Braves fell to the Bronx Bombers after leading them 3-1. Interestingly, the inaccuracy of Aaron’s country bumpkin image is shown by the fact that he quickly learned to take a tough stance in salary negotiations with the Braves.

The great 1957 and 1958 Milwaukee teams were loaded with talent: Eddie Mathews, Joe Adcock, Warren Spahn, Lew Burdette, Del Crandall. The most consistent, the most explosive, and the most isolated player, was Aaron. From the beginning, Aaron had to fight racist perceptions that he was an “instinctive” player, with limited intelligence. The book relates who he was never asked to join the other players socially, that as a black, he had to shower last, and that he had to suffer racist slurs from the white players.

The Braves dynasty quickly fell apart, but Aaron quietly built a stellar career on mediocre teams. Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente and Frank Robinson received more national publicity, as Aaron kept ringing up prodidgious seasons. At last, as the career of Mays waned in the early ’70s, the baseball world woke up to the fact that Henry Aaron was on track to beat the Babe’s hallowed career home run record.

After the Braves moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta, Aaron pulled closer and closer to the great Ruth. For months, Aaron received a blizzard of hate mail containing death threats from those who didn’t want a black man to break the record. At last, in a white-hot glare of media attention, Aaron broke the 714 barrier on April 8, 1974, at old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. He struck the blow  (above right) against the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Al Downing.

The record, and the abuse he’d suffered in pursuing it, left Aaron bitter and resentful. Bryant shows a complex, proud man quick to perceive slights and insults, who felt insecure in public and remained guarded in dealings with many fellow players and the press. “The Last Hero” exhaustively details how Aaron overcame all of that to become a highly successful Atlanta businessman and philanthropist, and the recipient of two of America’s most prestigious awards from Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush. Finally, Aaron’s reputation grew stronger during his magnanimous acceptance of Barry Bonds breaking Aaron’s career  home run record. In comparison to the churlish Bonds, alleged to have used steroids, Aaron indeed appeared as “the last hero.”

Bryant’s book is flawed by clumsy writing, narrative confusion and factual inconsistency. Yet, the personality of Aaron, his dogged professionalism, his uncanny talent, his undeniable business acumen, comes through. Atlanta newspaer buffs will find many entertaining stories about Aaron’s often contentious relationship with Journal and Constitution sportswriters. No doubt, Aaron would agree with archracist Gene Talmadge’s views of “them lyin’ Atlanta newspapers.”

Not much new is reported about how Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen and bank chief Mills B. Lane, with the help of Atlanta Journal sports editor Furman Bisher (a recurring character in the book) spirited the Braves from Milwaukee, but the story remains absorbing. The best chapter is Bryant’s account of the moment when Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s record, particularly since he quotes from classic Dodgers announcer Vin Scully’s masterly account. Those two then young men who bounded from the stands to follow Aaron on his historic trek around the basepaths were lucky; Bryant recounts how Aaron’s bodyguard almost drew his pistol and fired.

Such moments stand out. But all too often, Bryant overreaches in trying for the grand, significant statement. He’s prone to awkward constructions and cliched sportswriting jargon. He’s at his best when he just tells the story with simple language. Despite the book’s problems, Bryant achieves a multisided view of Aaron. The old ballplayer turned BMW auto dealership mogul didn’t fully cooperate with Bryant, but didn’t discourage associates from talking with the author. Those who give in-depth views of Aaron include baseball commissioner Bud Selig, a friend from Milwaukee days. Selig, during his reign as commissioner, has played a major role in making Aaron a national symbol of baseball. Bryant, a former Washington Post sportswriter now with the ESPN empire, tells this story well.

While not matching sports bios like David Maraniss’ books on Vince Lombardi and Roberto Clemente, Al Stump’s classic life of Ty Cobb, and Bill Veeck’s “Veeck as in Wreck,” “Last Hero” overcomes its shortcomings. Finishing strong, Bryant makes his case that Aaron is a hero of American society, not just of baseball. Early in the book, Bryant frequently engages in long digressions on the life of Jackie Robinson. His book shows that Aaron has matched and in many ways surpassed Robinson’s legacy.

This article was originally published by Chasing the Blues, Louis Mayeux’s journal on art, books, sports and travel

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Edward Hirsch: “You Have to Write The Poems That Only You Could Write” http://likethedew.com/2010/05/23/edward-hirsch-you-have-to-write-the-poems-that-only-you-could-write/ http://likethedew.com/2010/05/23/edward-hirsch-you-have-to-write-the-poems-that-only-you-could-write/#comments Sun, 23 May 2010 15:57:46 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=9477

I met Edward Hirsch a few years ago at the Indiana Writers Conference. He was a genial and generous workshop leader, blending a deep knowledge of poetry and its craft with easygoing humor. Along with his love of poetry, he’s an avid sports fan: his poem “Fast Break” in the collection “Wild Gratitude” captures the essence of basketball.

Since meeting Edward at Indiana, I have followed his career, pursuing his poems in magazines like the New Yorker and avidly reading new collections when they appeared.  He has received numerous awards for his poetry, including the National Book Critics Circle Award and a MacArthur Fellowship. Now the president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, he previously taught at Wayne State University and the University of Houston.

As the author of the best-selling prose work “How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love With Poetry,” he played a major role in the revival of poetry’s popularity among general readers. He recently published “The Living Fire, New and Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knoph),” which contains some of the best poems written by an American over the last 30 years.

He graciously agreed to answer several questions in the following Southern Bookman interview.

Q: Your position as the president of the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation is quite an honor for the art of poetry. How does your life as one of America’s best-known poets contribute to and enhance your position at the Guggenheim Foundation, or do you seek to keep them separate?

EH: The Guggenheim Foundation made a conscious decision to hire a working artist and scholar as its president. I try to live up to the trust that has been put in me, to exemplify what the Foundation is all about, what it represents. My writing life is  private, of course, and my work as a poet is far from my work as the head of a major foundation.  But there is a public space where the two roles come together, and I find that deeply fulfilling.

Q: Guggenheim fellows include an impressive number of scientists, scholars, artists, filmmakers and writers. The common belief is that science and art fatefully split in the Romantic Age.  Do you see bridging these cultures as an important part of the Guggenheim Foundation’s mission?  Does the foundation seek to foster conversations among its fellows from different disciplines?

EH: The Guggenheim Foundation has always seen its mission as supporting individual writers and artists, scientists and scholars.  We now give grants to individuals working in seventy-eight different fields, a very wide array.  Many conversations occur across the different disciplines, but we don’t really see that as our purpose or mission.  It’s a byproduct.  We encourage, support, and advance the work of gifted individuals.  We then leave them to their own devices to do the work that they were meant to do. 

Q: You recently released “The Living Fire, New and Selected Poems.” The book contains an astonishing variety of poems, from meditations on history and poetry to portraits of historic figures, to personal narratives of childhood and adulthood to frankly erotic love poems. The book gives the novelistic sense of the growth of a mind, a poetic consciousness. In selecting the poems, what did you see as their unifying quality?

EH: Robert Frost liked to say that if there are twenty-nine poems in a book, then the book itself is the thirtieth poem.  I’ve tried to find that thirtieth poem in The Living Fire.  While I was putting the book together, I kept thinking of W.B. Yeats’ mantra to himself, “Hammer your thoughts into unity.”  I’ve tried to do that hammering.  I think your question contains its own answer: there are many different themes, many different kinds of poems in the book, but the underlying subject is, in Wordsworth’s sense, the growth of a poet’s mind, the development of poetic thinking, poetic consciousness.

Q: As “The Living Fire” shows, your work has a distinctive, unmistakable voice. Yet, your lines echo the cadences and language of English and American poetry through the ages. When I read your poems, I can hear traces of Shakespeare, Milton and Stevens, among others. (Some of your erotic poems sound a bit like Whitman and Ginsberg). Do you see your style and language as following a tradition of English poetry?

EH: I think of my poems, at least in part, as being in conversation with other poets, with the many poets who have come before us, the great dead who have enabled our practice, who have made our work possible. I think of the poet as a reader who has been incited by what he has encountered in books, whose work as a reader spills over into his vocation as a writer.  I sometimes consider myself an American Romantic, and the different traditions of English and American poetry are dear to me.  Unlike many contemporary poets, I consider myself on good terms with the tradition.  I began with the metaphysical poets in college, and I’ve moved forward — and backward — from there.  I’m also a devoted internationalist, and I hear the echoes in my work of many European and Latin American poets, who have meant a great deal to me.  But in the end you have to leave your models behind and strike out on your own.  You have to write the poems that only you could write.  I’ve tried to do that.

Q: In your poem “Krakow, Six A.M.,” from “Special Orders,” you compare old-world Poland to America, which you see as a “gangly teenager,” whose dreams are “innocent and bloodthirsty” and who is “dreaming of glory.” As the administrator of a prestigious grants program and a prominent poet, how do see America today?  Will the country ever achieve maturity, or will it always be an eternal adolescent, despite its world leadership?

EH: That’s too large a question to be able to answer quickly, gracefully, or fully.  America is a very great country — what other country has such a highly developed tradition of philanthropy, for example?—and yet it is also a new country, very young, as countries go, very new.  We’ve got some growing up to do.  But I have high hopes that we’ll continue to ripen and mature.

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