Staff feature: On curating “Faulkner: Life and Works”

This week we feature a guest post from George Riser, special collections staff member and one of the curators of our current exhibition, “Faulkner: Life and Works.” George was responsible for the “Works” portion of the show, and we asked him if he would reflect on the experience.

Last spring, I was asked to participate in the upcoming exhibition, Faulkner: Life and Works, and I accepted with enthusiasm and some trepidation. For I knew Faulkner’s reputation as one of the most celebrated writers of the twentieth century would mean that he is as well one of the most scrutinized. I was charged with displaying the nine holograph manuscripts of Faulkner’s novels the University of Virginia Library holds, as well as dedicating exhibition cases to poetry, to short stories, and an array of ancillary materials — letters, drawings, early drafts, and commentary that relate to each novel, story, or poem displayed. And there was an incredible wealth of material from which to choose at the University of Virginia Special Collections — “an obscenity of riches,” as former curator Joan Crane once noted.

On display in George’s section of the exhibition: Faulkner’s list of acquaintances who might be interested in “The Sound and the Fury” (MSS 6271).

While working on the label text for these works, I thought about the affinity I felt for these stories and novels, and for the hundreds of characters that populate Mr. Faulkner’s fictional county of Yoknapatawpha and his town of Jefferson. And I knew that part of the appeal for me came from a familial connection to the geography and the people of Faulkner’s Mississippi.

My grandfather, Conrad McRae, was born in 1897, the same year as William Faulkner, and grew up in Brandon Mississippi, about two hours south of Faulkner’s hometown of Oxford. They both had connections to the railroads — my grandfather as a ticket agent and conductor, Faulkner through his paternal great-grandfather, who started one of the first railroad lines in Mississippi. I have imagined Faulkner riding the train to, say Clarksdale, my grandfather taking his ticket as he strolled down the aisle, and I’ve wondered if they might have passed each other on the back streets of Memphis on their way to seek out bootleg whiskey during the dry Prohibition era.

My grandfather’s people, the McRaes, came to Mississippi in a wave of nineteenth-century Scotch-Irish immigrants, the same as Faulkner’s McCaslins and MacCallums, and it was no stretch to see members of my extended family fitting quite snugly within the pages of any number of his stories, poems, and novels. As I was growing up, we spent three weeks each summer in Mississippi, and I got to know many of my “Faulkner” relatives — my mother’s Uncle Dick in his falling-down shack back in the remote pine forests east of Jackson, or Uncle Cap, the wall-eyed bachelor who raised goats and lived with his sister, Maggie, who kept a few cows and a henhouse full of laying hens, (a few who had taken up residence on her back porch). And there were many others, as my extended family included a number of would-be Compsons and Snopes, Sartorises and Bundrens, and I sometimes wondered if I too, though now far-flung, might still be considered a Faulkner descendant. And then the realization — we all are.

The romantically torn first page of the manuscript for “A Rose for Emily” (MSS 6074).

“Faulkner: Life and Works” runs through July 7 in the Harrison-Small main gallery. To learn more please visit

On View Now: American Broadsides to 1860

This week’s feature is a post by George Riser, Collections and Instruction Assistant for the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.

American Broadsides to 1860 features 72 broadsides—almost exclusively American and dating prior to 1860—drawn from the holdings of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. Arrayed in six sections—Proclamations, Political, Military, Goods and Services, Town and Country, and Literary Arts—these examples attest to the broadside’s varied content and breadth of function, while offering a fascinating account of life in early America. They also complement what is perhaps the most significant of all American broadsides: the “Dunlap Broadside” (first printing of the Declaration of Independence) on view in the adjacent Declaration Gallery.” Text by David Whitesell from the exhibition’s introductory panel.

One case of the exhibition American Broadsides to 1860. Photograph by Petrina Jackson.

One case of the exhibition American Broadsides to 1860. Photograph by Petrina Jackson.

The following is a sampling of what you will find in each of the exhibition’s sections.

The earliest broadside on display is found in the “Proclamations” section. “By the King. A Proclamation for the Suppressing a Rebellion Lately Raised Within the Plantation of Virginia,” is King Charles II’s 1676 response to Nathaniel Bacon’s rebellion, which was raging in the fledgling Virginia colony.

Detail of By the King. (fill in). Photograph by Petrina Jackson.

Detail of Charles II (1630-1685). By the King. A Proclamation for the Suppressing a Rebellion Lately Raised Within the Plantation of Virginia. London: Assigns of John Bill and Christopher Barker, 1676. (Broadside 1676 .G744 S63). Photograph by Petrina Jackson.

In the “Military” category, “Boston, 26th of June, 1775,” features a first-hand account, printed just nine days after the Battle of Bunker Hill, offering a somewhat rosy view of the catastrophic attempt to dislodge 1,200 colonial troops who had taken up positions in the hills surrounding Boston.

Boston. Photograph by Petrina Jackson

Boston, 26th of June, 1775. [Boston: John Howe, 1775] (Broadside 1775 .B67). Photograph by Petrina Jackson

In the “Political” section, the “Declaration of the Anti-slavery Convention, 1833,” calls for the formation of a national anti-slavery society—henceforth to be known as the American Anti-Slavery Society—and lists the names of delegates from ten states.

Detail of Declaration of the Anti-slavery Convention. [Philadelphia] : Merrihew & Gunn, [1833] (Broadside .W54 Z99 1833). Photograph by Petrina Jackson.. Photograph by Petrina Jackson.

The “Farm and Country” category features an 1828 broadside advertising a Gander Pull outside of Petersburg, Virginia. A Gander Pull involves the hanging of a neck-greased goose upside down from a scaffold, whereby well-lubricated participants attempt to decapitate the bird as they ride past at full gallop. The event also featured a fish dinner and a barbecue.

Gander Pull. Photograph by Petrina

Gary, Rich[ar]d. Gander Pull. Petersburg [Va.]: Old Dominion Office, [1828] (Broadside 1828 .G27). Photograph by Petrina

Two University of Virginia broadsides are found in the “Goods and Services” section: “Explanations, of the Ground Plan of the University of Virginia,” printed in Charlottesville in 1824. This broadside, printed to accompany Peter Maverick’s 1822 engraved “Plan of the University,” describes the pavilions, locations of the hotels, and the placement of the Rotunda, as well as the general layout of the only partly completed university Grounds. The 1825 program, “University of Virginia. This Institution Was Opened on the 5th Day of March, 1825,” was used to draft the text of the program for the second session of 1826. The first line—“This institution was opened on the 5th day of 1825”—is crossed out and changed in manuscript to read, “will commence its next session on the 1st day of February, 1826.” Other alterations indicate changes made for the second session.

University of Virginia. Photograph by Petrina Jackson.

University of Virginia. This Institution Was Opened on the 5th Day of March, 1825 … [Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 1825?] (Broadside 1825 .U65).. Photograph by Petrina Jackson.

In the “Literary” section don’t miss, “Theatre. On Friday Evening, September 15th, Will be Presented the Grand Operatical Romance of The Forty Thieves.” This 1809 announcement for a performance at the Park Theatre in New York features appearances by both of Edgar Allan Poe’s parents, eight months after his birth. In this dramatization of Ali Baba and The Forty Thieves, Mr. [David] Poe appears as the 1st Robber, Mrs. [Elizabeth] Poe as the clever slave girl, Morgiana.

Forty Thieves. Photograph by Petrina Jackson

Theatre. On Friday Evening, September 15th, Will be Presented the Grand Operatical Romance of The Forty Thieves. [New York: New Theatre, 1809] (PS2630.5 .T54 1809). Photograph by Petrina Jackson

In addition, there are 64 other fascinating broadsides on display, each offering a unique and varied look at American culture in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The exhibition may be viewed in the barrel-vaulted hallway on the first floor of the Harrision/Small building, just outside of the Albert and Shirley Small Declaration Gallery.