When native Memphian Joan Williams died in 2004, she left behind five novels (one a National Book Award finalist) and one short-story collection -- work that, with the exception of two early stories, she produced after 1953. The year is significant, because it's the year Williams ended her romantic involvement with William Faulkner, a man who, when the two met in Oxford in 1949, was 31 years Williams' senior and married. The exact nature of that relationship is explored in William Faulkner and Joan Williams: The Romance of Two Writers (McFarland & Co.) by Lisa C. Hickman.
The book is in many ways a ground-breaker: It draws on unpublished letters between Williams and Faulkner; it draws on information supplied by the psychiatrists who treated Faulkner at Memphis' Gartly-Ramsay Hospital; and it draws on the willingness of Williams to talk openly of these years -- years that she feared overshadowed her subsequent writing career.
As Hickman writes in the Preface, "Joan often, and rightly, felt she struggled more for recognition because of her relationship with Faulkner, that her talent somehow was dismissed because of their association."
Hickman, who teaches writing and literature at Christian Brothers University, is on the record too. In an interview in the January issue of Memphis magazine, she explains: "It's tiring to point out over and over Joan's literary legacy and then have someone reduce it to 'Didn't she have an affair with William Faulkner?' It's that sexism that I find extremely trying. ... It is past time for Joan Williams to assume her rightful place in the distinguished roster of Southern women writers."
Booksigning and reading by Lisa C. Hickman at Square Books, Oxford, Thursday, January 25th, 5 p.m. (662-236-2262)