Q&A With Dean Faulkner Wells, Niece of Literary Icon William Faulkner

Faulkner's last living relative gives us a glimpse into the life of a true Southern icon in this exclusive interview.


I'm here with Dean Faulkner Wells and we're talking about her, her new book, Every Day by the Sun. And where did we start? Yeah. Well I think we started with you know. How do you write a book like this? And you had some help. Well, it was in the first place it takes an incredible amount of either courage or madness. To try to write a book when somebody's in your family as the name [INAUDIBLE] Barbara. You We have this huge shadow that is going to cast itself over every word you put down. So you either have to ignore it or enlist its help in [INAUDIBLE] comes down your side. And in my case there were parts of it were extremely painful. Reliving my father's death. And oh, my grandmother's death, his death. The ghost and all the followers believe in ghosts, actually came back and helped me write. I'd be dead asleep in the middle of the night and suddenly I would be wide awake and this voice, daddy's voice would be saying, Dean, don't, don't forget the part about. And then I would hear my grandmother Manny say it, oh yes, don't leave out the part about and tell so much about our family. So my subconscious was saying, you may be having a difficult time dealing with this but you're on the right track. And we are on your side. And they are of course the people that I'm [INAUDIBLE] to please. And it is still a huge responsibility to try to be write something that is worthy of not just a famous family. But of the people that I loved so very much and who were so very, very good to me. You mentioned that you could almost sense presence, you could by smells. Yes, I knew their scents. I think always knew when he was here. And I really am not stark raving mad because my husband Larry could smelling tea. And it's wonderful odor of tweed, bourbon, pipe tobacco, leather, horses, and cedars, and we would look at each other and say, fabulous here, fabulous here. And then way in the back hall close to my grandmother's room, to Nanny's room. The slightest whiff of a lilac sachet. The smell of paper. Of books. As you open a, a book. And I love to do that and just smell the ink and the paper that's in there. And then she had a beautiful collection of fans. And they were of parchment and fold. And they just said Manny would say, here I am, here I am. And of course my mother was the most exciting smell of all. Because as a child I was mostly raised by my grandparents and nurses. And my mother went to work everyday. And she would come in late in the evening smelling like the outdoors. So whenever in the dead of winter and the house is shut up, not a breath of air, suddenly there's this whiff of perfectly clean fresh hair and I know it's my mama that [INAUDIBLE] hair. And I've regretted my whole life of course, any number of reasons, that I didn't know my father. But the closest I've ever felt to him was the first time I held his pilot's license, a very small leather. Fold over piece of work with his picture and his ID in it. And I held it up and smelled it, and it was almost as if he reached out of that cupboard and spoke to me. So I, I treasure it. I treasure that. Are you the last of the Faulkners? What is, what does it feel like and how did that play a role in the timing of this book? It feels perfectly terrible. I hate it and I would love to lie and say, I can't possibly be as old as I am, but if I lie then my whole book's a lie. And it never could have happened. So I have to be celebrating my 75th birthday come March. And the last one, well it's, it's scary. But my children are young and I think that they feel they're very conscious of who they are. And it may be that one of them, one day, will carry on. But I say that and I can't deny that because I am the last one. I'm the last one who could ever say oh, I was there when Manny did this. Or, I remember when Nanny said that. So it is the responsibility that made me sit down at the kitchen table and write down a bunch of. Is that good. And to try and tell the truth. You wrote it in your kitchen, right? At this table where we're sitting? Yes, yes. For how many years? Two and a half. I kept thinking oh, maybe I can do it in six months. [LAUGH] Maybe in a year, you know, maybe in a year and a half. And it went on and on. And even now I have moments when I wish oh, I could just write one more paragraph. And my editor has said more than once, do not write any more sentences, Dean. So, I am not going to write any more sentences. And you of course wrote a legal path like the one in front of us. Yes and with a pencil so, that I could erase I have a tendency to write faster than I should. So I try to get it down and then I like the security of a good eraser so I can erase it and enough like my grandmother and pappy was. Stingy, stingy. [SOUND] To the core. We don't like to waste anything. So rather than just marking it out or tearing up the paper I'd meticulously erase it. And then write it all over again. And of course I happened to be married to the best editor in the country. And it couldn't be any better. And he's been so patient like only once or twice. I'm gonna tell this on you but [INAUDIBLE]. I made [UNKNOWN] so angry about some tedious point that I was just, I wouldn't leave alone. And I kept asking him, what do you think, what do you think? And he decided he was going to have a heart attack [LAUGH] is so human to the doctors office and they did all the routine on fixing and he's alive. [UNKNOWN] I'm happy, as am laughing, hes not laughing, he didn't die. [INAUDIBLE] Stand forever. Alive and still editing. And I don't know, should I have devoted it to a [UNKNOWN] here. Sure. On the one thing the [UNKNOWN] did because the accident of my birth and my ending up almost their own personal orphan belonging a little bit to each one of them in a different way. They were able to give me a sense of belonging. A sense of, of place, which is so very important for all of us. A place that I loved, that no matter how many times we moved and I were, we moved 30 times in so many years. There was always [UNKNOWN] and no matter how dysfunctional my mother's marriage was or how dysfunction pappy's was nanny was here. And this was bedrock. This was solid. So [INAUDIBLE] Rutledge was a Mississippian. And long time editor of the New York Times. And I read once that he said, the greatest gift a parent can give a child is roots and [INAUDIBLE]. And the Faulkners gave him that. And it's gotten me through a great many difficulties, like this. Very good. Just one more question. You know, this must have been a difficult book to write. Because the Faulkner family was famously private but you've written this story that could only be written by you from the inside out. And one of the things that I took from it was that this this man who was so famous and so proud of it and maybe seen as a little bit eccentric by the outside world. He was actually a great family man. And you knew him as Pappy, as your uncle and. He took very good care of you and the rest of the family. But, you know, can you talk about the one moment when you were growing up and you realized that he wasn't just Pappy, that he was kind of a big deal? [COUGH] I guess the first was when Hollywood came to town. To film Intruder in the Dust. And we, I was 13 or so. And, Just the idea that Hollywood would even know who Pappy was was terribly exciting. But as an elder teenager, 19. I think it really hit me when I was in New York with Pappy. And I was sailing to Europe for the first time. They were sending me off to school. To abroad. And we were walking down Fifth Avenue with his editor of Sachs Cummings. And I thought I was the cutest thing on Earth. I had on a little black sheath, and my Capezios, and a new haircut. And I noticed that people were actually turning to look at us. As we walked down the sidewalk and I thought yeah, wait'll I get to Paris. I've got New York in the palm. It took me maybe a block until I realized these people weren't looking at me. They were looking at this distinguished white haired gentleman who was totally unaware or if [INAUDIBLE]. He was ignoring the stares. But every eye was on him. And then we got to the restaurant, and I was eating, I can't remember the name of it. But it was very French and very fancy and you know the, the menus that are bigger than I was, and we're ushered to a very special table, and the sommelier and the maitre d' suddenly were there like our own private waiters. I think that Pappy could have called for oh, I don't know, flaming pheasant or something, and they would have done it. They would have brought him anything then. And then that stayed with me. Oh, and again, this is of course in the book, when I got to Switzerland and Pappy had given me a check to deposit in the Bank of Switzerland. And so I walked in and said that I needed to make this deposit and instantly. A teller buzzed somebody in doors opened in the elevators and there was a flurry of activity. And the president of the bank walked into the lobby and came over and introduced himself and said [FOREIGN]. And then he asked me to come up to his office, his [INAUDIBLE] office. And have tea. And I was only going to put my money to go to school in Switzerland in his bank. And when I handed him the check he said, it is an honor to hold a piece of paper with your uncle's name on it. And that's when old pappy got to be bigger than life. But we're lucky. We weren't growing up. If we had known that we would never ever could of had a normal relationship. We were never both [INAUDIBLE]. We would of never argued or we would have been a totally unnatural. [INAUDIBLE] So unfortunately, we didn't find it out and then by the time we did find it out, we were old enough I think to be able to handle it, and to enjoy it. Well that's just one of the many wonderful stories that you recount in you book, congratulations. Thank you. And, folks, this is Dean Faulkner Wells coming out with Everyday by the Sun. Please pickup a copy. And read it as soon as you can. It's wonderful. Thank you.
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