In April of 1962, nearly 49 years ago this day, author William Faulkner visited the United States Military Academy at West Point at the invitation of Major General W.C. Westmoreland. On the night of April 19 he read excerpts from his forthcoming novel The Reivers before a rapt audience of cadets, faculty, and staff. The following day, clad in a Donegal tweed suit and repp tie, he lunched with the brass and met with cadets in two advanced literature courses and discussed a wide range of subjects including his work, philosophy of life and views on America.
Faulkner was not himself much of a military man, though critics have noted his “lifelong romance” with the military experience beginning with his first novel Soldierâ€™s Pay in 1926; unable to join the U.S. Army due to his short stature, he had enlisted in the British Royal Flying Corps during World War I but never saw action. Nonetheless he exuded something of a military bearing on the stage at West Point with his pipe and British officerâ€™s mustache.
The evening event required black tie, but the tweeds were more in Faulknerâ€™s line, a nod perhaps to his equestrian pursuits at Rowan Oak. The photos, taken by Carl Mydans for Life magazine, are a study in how to wear them. Tweeds (and pipe) were a trademark of Faulknerâ€™s; he can be seen wearing them in an earlier Life essay from 1940 as well when the author was in Hollywood working on scripts for The Big Sleep and To Have and Have Not (see below) â€“ when it wasn’t too damn hot for anything but shorts.
Three short months after his visit to West Point Faulkner died in Mississippi at the age of 64, making it one of his last public appearances; he was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1963. Luckily both of the West Point sessions were recorded, and two members of the Academyâ€™s English department later edited the transcripts for this book. “We had long admired his literary genius,â€ the editors note, â€œbut in an acquaintance of just about twenty-four hours we learned to appreciate his innate humility, grace, and dignity.”
-Jared Paul Stern is the editor of DRIVEN.
Related: West Point Class of 1938