Joseph Blotner (1923-2012): A Photoessay in the Stacks

It is almost impossible to imagine the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library without William Faulkner. His portrait hangs in the gallery leading to our reading room, and the typewriter he used while at U.Va. sits prominently in our reception area. Dozens of Faulkner-related manuscript collections and several thousand books by and about him fill shelves and ranges in our stacks.

Late last year, we lost one of the people responsible for Faulkner’s presence at the University: former English Department faculty member Joseph Blotner. Dr. Blotner is perhaps best remembered for his monumental 1979 biography of Faulkner and for his Library of America editions of Faulkner’s works; the editions and his popular 1984 condensed version of the biography remain in print today and are standard sources for the study of one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. After a long career as a biographer, editor, and academic, Professor Blotner passed away at his home in Oakland, California on November 16, 2012.  His obituary in the New York Times reflects his influence and reputation nationally, while his work here at U.Va. was summarized in a lengthy 2007  appreciation of Blotner’s legacy published on the university’s main news site, “U.Va. Today.”

William Faulkner and Joe Blotner standing near the Rotunda at the University of Virginia, May 1962. (Photograph by Dean Cadle)

Dr. Blotner left both a personal legacy and a paper legacy at the university, the latter in the form of manuscripts and books in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. The papers of major biographers and editors are consulted by the scholars who follow in their wake, and there is much here of value for future generations of Faulkner scholarship.

As a relatively new arrival on the library staff, I wasn’t sure what I’d find when I took the opportunity recently to go down into the stacks to investigate our holdings related to Dr. Blotner’s work. I brought my camera along and shot some photos of some of my favorite finds. I hope they provide a sense of the richness of our Blotner holdings:

Joseph Blotner’s _Faulkner: A Biography: One-Volume Edition_ (New York: Random House, 1984). The book is seen here in the Faulkner section of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections general stacks. All of the books visible in this picture are by or about William Faulkner, and this captures only a segment of our Faulkner book holdings.

A heavily annotated draft of Blotner’s Faulkner biography. This folder contains a lengthy discussion of Faulkner’s time in New Orleans. (MSS7258-m).


A 1960 draft schedule of Faulkner’s appearances at the University of Virginia, including a meeting with the English Club in Alderman Library, a group of blind visitors, and law professor Marian Kellog’s Uruguayan Seminar. Joe Blotner’s name appears at the top of the page, presumably as organizer of the visits, and the phrase “Chief’s Sched” at the bottom. (MSS 7362. Photograph by Molly Schwartzburg)

In 1962, Faulkner gave a reading from his new novel, _The Reivers_, for which Joe Blotner sent out tickets to English Departments across the region. A generous stack of letters from the faculties of these departments is held in the collection, and with rare exception, the tickets were all taken and more requested. Here, the chair of the English Department at the all-women Sweet Briar College, located about an hour south of Charlottesville, requests as many tickets as possible for his community. (MSS 7362. Photograph by Molly Schwartzburg)

The book holdings in Special Collections contain almost seventy works authored by Joe Blotner, including several books, magazine articles, and other materials relating to Faulkner and other writers. Shown here is our earliest Blotner book, a guide to technical writing based on his experience working in the field before he took on his first academic post at the University of Idaho. This copy is inscribed to Atcheson Hench, who joined the faculty of the English Department at U.Va. in 1922. (F22 v.811 no3)

A curator’s favorite sight: lots of boxes, lots of mysteries until they’re opened. These are the papers of Joseph Blotner, which entered the collections in various accessions and are cataloged and available for use. The green slips show our archivists’ working annotations.