We came across these two items in the Picayune (Miss.) Item and thought they’d be of interest to Southern Partisan readers about the passing of the country’s preeminent William Faulkner scholar:
Services Set for Polk Memorial
HATTIESBURG — A memorial service for Noel Polk will be held on Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Thad Cochran Building on the University of Southern Mississippi campus to honor Picayune’s native son, and the world’s pre-eminent William Faulkner scholar and lecturer, who died at his home in Jackson on Tuesday, surrounded by his family.
The family will greet friends from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. before the memorial service.
Polk, 69, was considered to be the “pre-eminent” Faulkner scholar and a world-renowned lecturer on Southern authors. His greatest expertise lay in the study of the works of William Faulkner and Eudora Welty.
His “Eudora Welty: A Bibliography of Her Work” is the standard reference text for Welty.
His work on editing Faulkner’s great novels, returning them to their original text, so they could be reissued by major publishing houses, such as the Library of America and Random House, and his other work, changed the foundation of Faulkner studies, which was the passion of his life.
In 2006, he won the Richard Wright Literary Excellence Award for his body of work. He studied Faulkner and Welty for 45 years with a brilliant intellect.
He wrote a reminiscence of growing up in Picayune for “The American Scholar” that revealed the complex nature of Southern culture. His writing style was similar to Faulkner’s because of decades of studying his work; periods were scarce.
Everybody wasn’t sitting on the front porch, sipping mint juleps; some places in the South, were, what he called, “outside of history.”
An essay, appropriately called “Living Outside History,” nailed the cultural melieu in which he grew up in the 1940s and 1950s in Picayune, Miss., a small Southern town where he was born on Feb. 23, 1943.
“It is as if Picayune had succeeded in hiding from the rest of Mississippi and the South. . .Picayune was not, is not, Southern in the same way that Natchez, Columbus, Oxford, Selma, Birmingham, Jackson, and the Mississippi Delta are. . .In Picayune I was outside of history, but the minute I stepped outside of Picayune, it began to lean in on me, undertaking a relentless pursuit to situate me outside of Picayune. . .still thinking of history as a series of facts and dates, not as a condition to be inherited. . .,” he wrote.
He then discovered Faulkner, which lit up his imagination. He went on to become the greatest living scholar on Faulkner, and invitations from all over the world came in for him to lecture. He once lectured to a Faulkner society in Tokyo. Other countries in which he held forth on Faulkner and other Southern writers were Russia, the European countries, Australia, South America and France. Those who saw him lecture say his style was inimitable.
Polk was an internationally recognized literary scholar and gifted professor, regarded by many as the pre-eminent Faulkner scholar of his generation. He was a central figure in Faulkner studies for 40 years.
He did the editorial work for the corrected editions of all of Faulkner’s novels, most recently co-editing a new edition of Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury,” which finally fulfilled Faulkner’s plan to employ different colors of ink for sections of the opening chapter. He used the original typed manuscripts of the author for his revisions.
Some of his works were “Children of the Dark House; Text and Content in Faulkner,” “Requiem for a Nun: A Critical Study,” “Faulkner and Welty and the Southern Literary Tradition,” and he edited “Mississippi’s Piney Woods People,” an anthology of Mississippi writers, and the restored edition of Robert Penn Warren’s “All The Kings Men.”
He also wrote a memoir, “Outside the Southern Myth,” and recently published a collection of poems, “Walking Safari.”
After graduating from Picayune Memorial High School, he went to Mississippi College where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees and in 1970 earned a Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina.
Polk’s interpretive books and critical essays on Faulkner spanned decades and gave significant direction to Faulkner studies.
Polk was a professor at Southern Miss from 1977 to 2004, when he joined the faculty at Mississippi State University in Starkville. He was professor emeritus there and became the editor of the “Mississippi Quarterly.” He also helped found the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters to recognize artistic achievement in the state.
His family said that although he was a great scholar, he will always be remembered as “fun-loving, generous, kind, gracious and an encouraging” father. He lived life fully, loved to travel, loved his rose bushes, baseball games, his grandchildren and a gin-and-tonic.
Survivors include his children, Scott Polk of Orlando, Fla., Jennifer Polk Heidelberg of Jackson; three grandchildren, Sam, Emily and Francie Heidelberg, all of Jackson; brother Mickey Polk of Cleveland, Ohio; nephew Chad Polk of Terry and niece Holly Polk Kennedy of Hernando.
The family said that in lieu of flowers memorials may be given to the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Endowment Fund, P.O. Box 2346, Jackson MS 39225-2346.
Compiled from staff and wire reports
Two Remember Polk from Picayune
By David A. Farrell
PICAYUNE — Two people close to Faulkner scholar Noel Polk, who died Tuesday, remember that although he later developed into a towering literary intellect, he was also down-to-earth and could relate to the common man.
“He was a great baseball fan and could talk shop with anyone,” said his brother Mickey.
Mickey, who lives in Cleveland, Ohio, said that his brother Noel possessed a “kind and generous personality,” but, “When you heard him lecture and hold forth among his peers, you realized that here was a man with an eminent intellect. Really, I am not saying this because he was my brother, but he was a man of great intellect.”
And Polk says that his brother always gave the credit for fanning his mental spark to an iconic English teacher, who was legendary at Picayune Memorial High School, I.J. Smith.
“He told me one time that I.J. got him interested in English and English literature, and some professors at Mississippi College continued to feed that interest,” said Polk from his home in Cleveland. Noel Polk graduated from Picayune High in 1961. Attended Mississippi College in Clinton and earned his doctorate in 1970 from University of South Carolina. He was a professor at the University of Southern Mississippi from 1977 to 2004, when he took a professorship at Mississippi State University. He was a professor-emeritus there. He lived in Jackson, where he died on Tuesday, surrounded by his family.
“Noel was just like your average kid,” said Mickey. “We played baseball behind the Y. He was a member of Charlie Newman’s band. He played trumpet, and we were always pulling pranks on anybody we could. A lot of the time we were helping father, though, in the Firestone dealership store, which he owned.
“But after you hung around with Noel, you realized that there was something different about him. There was always that unique ability, that intelligence that he tried to control and not be overbearing,” he said.
Noel’s father, Earl Polk, was from Monticello. He married Ayeleen Hamilton and they moved to Picayune in 1939. After working for H.M. Schrock at Schrock’s Western Auto, Earl purchased a Firestone franchise and opened up a Firestone store in Picayune.
“Noel wrote a memoir that was published in 1998, and it was called ‘Outside the Southern Myth,’ and it has a lot about his early life in Picayune,” said Mickey.
Wrote Noel Polk in “The American Scholar,” where a portion of the book was excerpted: “We had to take history, of course: the curriculum at Picayune High School, we believed, had been designed so that the one teacher everybody had to take before graduating was the history teacher, Mrs. Richardson. . .She came smirking into class brandishing a newspaper and announced that the last Civil War veteran had just died, a Mississippian, from just up Highway 11 in Poplarville. . .I knew about World War II. . .and the Korean War. . .but I knew nothing about Shiloh and Vicksburg. They were foreign countries as far as I was concerned.”
Lynn Crosby Gammill, who lives in Hattiesburg, said her brother, Osmond, was close friends with Noel. “They ran together all the time,” said Lynn from her home in Hattiesburg, “and I used to baby-sit them. They were just your mischievous young kids, just like every other kid in Picayune at that time, always looking at having fun.”
Lynn and Osmond’s father, was L.O. Crosby, Jr.
Noel Polk would later deliver the L.O. Crosby, Jr., memorial lectures at USM.
Gammill recalls traveling with her mother to a series of lectures on Faulkner given by Polk in Russia. Gammill and her mother, Dorothy, were on an cultural exchange program between the United States and Russia, which included the Faulkner lecture series in Russia.
“This was during the Cold War, too, when officials were trying to thaw relations between the two countries. I remember Faulkner scholars from all over the world lectured, and it was sort of bland, but after Noel’s lecture, the Russians leaped to their feet and gave him a thunderous applause. I always felt that he had a little bit to do with the thawing of the U.S.-Russian relationship. They loved him over there,” she said.
Memorial services will be held for Noel Polk at USM Thad Cochran Building on Saturday at 2 p.m. The family will greet friends from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Noel Polk was 69 years old.