The Summer of Faulkner: Oprah’s Book Club, William Faulkner, and 21st Century America

full name / name of organization: 
Jaime Harker
contact email: 
jlharker@olemiss.edu

Oprah Winfrey's 2005 announcement of her Book Club's "Summer of Faulkner" was greeted with skepticism, if not derision, by many cultural and literary commentators. The alliance between Oprah and Faulkner was seen a treacherous merger of pop culture schmaltz and modernist complexity. Recent scholarly excavations of the interdependence of highbrow writers with the literary marketplace and popular culture, however, suggest that the Faulkner-Oprah alliance is merely the most recent manifestation of Faulkner’s cultural malleability, evident in his successful Hollywood writing, his best-selling Signet pulp reprints, and his career-long commitment to exploring popular genres like detective novels and the gothic. This scholarly reappraisal of modernism and Faulkner makes Oprah bashing increasingly untenable. The summer of Faulkner was arguably Oprah’s Book Club's most ambitious literary intervention; she chose not one but three Faulkner novels, beginning with two experimental texts and ending with perhaps his most devastating account of race in America. In addition, Oprah’s decision to have the bulk of this experience occur online—with university experts creating study guides, articles, and podcasts, and discussion boards linking far-flung readers virtually—makes the Summer of Faulkner a key artifact in the evolution of digital humanities.

This edited collection invites essays that explore both the Summer of Faulkner and its afterlife. Possible topics include, but are not limited to, the following: its educational apparatus; its interaction with three Faulkner experts; its assumed reading practices and advocacy of collaborative reading; literacy as a form of political empowerment or civic engagement and mobilization (within the novels and/or within the summer of Faulkner itself); the experience of actual readers; specific analyses of _The Sound and the Fury_, _As I Lay Dying_, and _Light in August_ within the larger context of the Summer of Faulkner; the larger cultural and literary debate (including the blogosphere) around the Summer of Faulkner; the Summer of Faulkner within the larger context of Oprah’s Book Club; the Summer of Faulkner and its relationship to later cultural interventions such as the Book Club’s hiatus and its revival; Oprah's cultural clout and her literary interventions, her political endorsement of Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential campaign; and Oprah’s creation of her own cable network.

Please send 500-word abstracts or completed articles to Jaime Harker (jlharker@olemiss.edu), Jay Watson (jwatson@olemiss.edu), and Cecilia Konchar Farr (ckfarr@stkate.edu) by August 1, 2011. Completed manuscripts are due by January 1, 2012.

cfp categories: 
american
bibliography_and_history_of_the_book
film_and_television
modernist studies
popular_culture