THE SNARLING article by Michael Mewshaw (Book World, June 3) about the support of creative writers at the University of Virginia contains some gross misstatements of fact along with some bits of correct facts. I was dean of the faculty when we appointed William Faulkner as writer in residence -- a folksy arrangement from the beginning. A faculty wife saw a grandfather patting the bottom of a baby slung over his shoulder. She did a double take and looked back. Yes, it was William Faulkner, who had a daughter and grandchild living in Charlottesville. Joseph Blotner of the English department followed up on this and approached Faulkner about associating with the University of Virginia as writer-in-residence.
When the negotiations reached me I offered to augment the ridiculously small honorarium that the English department was proposing in addition to the use of a house that he requested. But the chairman declined, saying the English department wanted to do this with its own funds. Besides, he said, Faulkner had stipulated that he would do no teaching, would not read manuscripts, nor would he criticize student or faculty writing. He would not even stay through the spring semester, as he planned to return home to Mississippi and plant a vegetable garden. He did agree to do a few readings of his own work for students.
We had a reception for him when he came where I expressed our pleasure and made some apology for our small honorarium. Faulkner said: "You wasted your money, Dean. I would have come for nothing." Then Joe Blotner said: "The dean is from Mississippi." "Where?" asked Faulkner. I mentioned Tupelo, where I had lived as a child. Faulkner said: "What are they saying about Elvis Presley in Tupelo?" At first I pleaded long absence and said that I did not know. But, on second thought, I returned to tell Faulkner: "They are saying, 'I jes' bet you he's makin' a barr'l o' money.' " And with a straight face Faulkner continued: "Mo'n two hunnerd a week."
I attended one of Faulkner's readings to see how the students responded. As I recall, he read "The Bear" and "Shingles for the Lord" that day. The students loved it and loved Faulkner. He was given a large, secluded office in Alderman Library for his work, but apparently he was not writing at that stage of his life. When he vacated the office the only things he left were some pieces of horseriding tackle. That was what he was really doing in Charlottesville -- riding with young friends. And that is how it really was, not the way Michael Mewshaw tells it. WILLIAM L. DUREN JR. Charlottesville, Va.
The recent Letter From Charlottesville by Michael Mewshaw titled "The Ghosts of Jefferson and Poe" had plenty of ghosts, but not quite enough living examples of the reading and writing world in Charlottesville.
Mewshaw implies that Charlottesville writers don't know one another and are snobby towards one another if they do. That's a matter of perspective, and I believe it has more to do with the fact that Mewshaw hails from an active literary scene in Rome and and hasn't been here long (only nine months). Mewshaw mentions that radio station WTJU broadcasts interviews with writers. As the person who conducts those interviews, I have to say my experience with them has been a little different from his. The Charlottesville writers I've met are among the warmest people one could hope to encounter anywhere.
This is a town that supports three literary publications and two reading series, only one of which is university sponsored. A large reading community keeps 19 bookstores in business. The university's English department pays salaries, sponsors annual writing awards for students, and attracts a student population of writers, many of whom stay in Charlottesville because they like the trees. MARIFLO STEPHENS Charlottesville, Va.
Michael Mewshaw responds: William L. Duren Jr. adds welcome texture to the many colorful tales about William Faulkner's time at the University of Virginia. But I fear he is confusing two distinct events -- Faulkner's service as writer in residence and his later return as a Balch lecturer, when he gave three readings for a total of $250. The information in my "Letter from Charlottesville" comes straight from Joseph Blotner's authorized biography of Faulkner. (I also conducted a telephone interview with Blotner.) Duren is right -- Faulkner probably would have affiliated himself with the university for no pay. Since it would have cost nothing, the mystery remains why the university rejected all proposals to make the Nobel Prize-winning novelist a permanent member of the faculty.
Mariflo Stephens is a friendly, loquacious lady who, after learning I'd been asked to write about Charlottesville, telephoned to say she believed she had an assignment from The Post to do the same piece. Nevertheless, she offered to share the fruits of her research and experience, and urged me to mention her radio show, the town's book clubs, book stores, literary magazines and small presses. I suggested she save this material for herself.
I have my own perspective, one shaped by the fact that I've lived here for a total of five years, did two graduate degrees at the University of Virginia, frequently visited Charlottesville while I made my home in Italy, and have been friends with many local writers for decades. The point of my Letter was two-fold -- that the university remains, as one of its own officials put it to me, "a hotbed of apathy" toward contemporary literature, and that despite the extraordinary number of writers who reside here, no one, with the exception of Stephens, regards it as a literary community.
Revolution No. 9
IF EVERY revolution has its own vocabulary, then feminism is not a revolution. Or so we might infer from Susan Jacoby's review (Book World, May 27) of Wendy Kaminer's A Fearful Freedom: Women's Flight from Equality. Key words in the review, echoing the title of the book, are taken from the vocabulary of political discourse that has been standard since the French Revolution: freedom and equality. (Only brotherhood is absent, for obvious reasons.)
Notably absent are the key words of classical political discourse, namely virtue and duty. Indeed feminism scarcely deals in such ideas; where statesmen in the classical tradition spoke of duty, feminists speak of rights. Naturally rights is another key word in Jacoby's review.
To judge how corrosive it is to harp on rights and ignore duty, it suffices to consider what happens to a family when its members want their rights and won't hear of their duties. It's even worse when they want freedom but no moral restrictions on how they use it. PATRICK RILEY Washington, D.C.
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