May 11

This Day in History

Literary

May 11, 1942:

Go Down, Moses, by William Faulkner, is published

One of William Faulkner's greatest collections of short stories, Go Down, Moses, is published. The collection included The Bear, one of his most famous stories, which had previously appeared in the Saturday Evening Post.

The seven stories in Go Down, Moses all take place in the fictional county of Yoknapatawpha, Mississippi, and are based on Faulkner's observations of his own native state.

Faulkner was born near Oxford, Mississippi, where his father was the business manager of the University of Mississippi. His mother, a sensitive, literary woman, encouraged Faulkner and his three brothers to read. Faulkner was a good student but lost interest in studies during high school. He dropped out sophomore year and took a series of odd jobs while writing poetry.

In 1918, his high school girlfriend, Estelle Oldham, married another man, and Faulkner left Mississippi. He joined the British Royal Flying Corps, but World War I ended before he finished his training in Canada. He returned to Mississippi and continued writing poetry. A neighbor funded the publication of his first book of poems, The Marble Faun (1924). His first novel, Soldiers' Pay, was published two years later.

In 1929, he finally married Estelle, his high school sweetheart, who had divorced her first husband and now had two children. They bought a ruined mansion near Oxford and began restoring it while Faulkner finished The Sound and the Fury, published in October 1929. The book opens with the interior monologue of a developmentally disabled mute character. His next book, As I Lay Dying (1930), featured 59 different interior monologues. Light in August (1932) and Absalom, Absalom (1936) also challenged traditional forms of fiction.

Faulkner's difficult novels did not earn him enough money to support his family, so he supplemented his income by selling short stories to magazines and working as a Hollywood screenwriter. He wrote two critically acclaimed films, both starring Humphrey Bogart: To Have and Have Not was based on an Ernest Hemingway novel, and The Big Sleep was based on a mystery by Raymond Chandler.

Faulkner's reputation received a significant boost with the publication of The Portable Faulkner (1946), which included his many stories set in Yoknapatawpha County. Three years later, in 1949, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. His Collected Stories (1950) won the National Book Award. Throughout the rest of his life, he lectured frequently on university campuses. He died of a heart attack at age 55.

Fact Check We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!

What Happened on Your Birthday?

Pick a Date

Shop HISTORY

  • Ben Franklin DVD

    Ben Franklin DVD

    The Ben Franklin DVD is a revealing yet informal History Channelâ„¢ presentation, the real man behind the myth is finally brought to light.

    $19.99

    Buy Now