Her, too: Play depicts Faulkner relationship
In April 2004, the Daily Progress reported in Joan Williams' obituary that the writer had "a rich mentor-protégé relationship and a brief romance" with American author and former UVA professor William Faulkner, 31 years Williams' senior.
At the time, The Hook asked Faulkner's daughter, Jill Summers, about the 13-year relationship between Faulkner and Williams, and Summers said the family did not dispute it.
Matt Bowen, Williams' son, is not only not disputing the relationship, he's publicizing it with a dramatic adaptation of Williams' novel, The Wintering, which depicts the two writers' intimate friendship.
What better location to premiere than in Charlottesville? After all, Faulkner resided here from 1956-1962, and Williams much later, from 1999-2002. This weekend, Bowen premiers his theatrical production, Me Too, Mr. Faulkner, a tale of "a deep and complex personal relationship" between his mother and Faulkner, at the Gravity Lounge.
"This play is not a kiss-and-tell portrayal," insists Bowen. "Faulkner asked my mother to write The Wintering. He even told her what name to use for his character: Almoner, which means 'one who begs.'"
Despite Faulkner's alleged groveling, Williams always "treated the relationship with dignity and respect," Bowen says.
"She was the type to write a book about it, not yak," he adds. "She was very discreet while the relationship was going on."
With good reason, considering that Faulkner was married to Estelle Oldham Franklin, his childhood sweetheart, and was raising three children with her.
UVA English professor George Garrett hopes that Bowen will follow Williams' lead and demonstrate tact in the upcoming production.
"It's an interesting choice for a production, and it should be a lively drama," says Garrett. "I suppose we'll have to wait and see if it's treated with decency."
Jill Summers declined to comment on the play.
John Gibson, director of Live Arts, has faith in Bowen's directing abilities, even though Bowen has only acted in the past.
"Matt fleshed out the play and discussed it with me, and I encouraged him to go on with it," says Gibson. "He's devoted a lot of time and energy to this play because it's his mother's legacy."
Bowen takes the legacy very seriously.
"I made sure to include many direct quotes," he says. "The only scene in which I deviated from real life was the final one."
But Bowen wants to ensure that his mother is remembered for her writing achievements in addition to her relationship with Faulkner.
"That was one of her great fears," he says, "that this relationship would overshadow all her accomplishments."
Yet it's difficult not to associate the two when Faulkner so heavily influenced her life. As her obituary pointed out, some of her works are archived next to Faulkner's in the Special Collections library at UVA.
But it wasn't a one-way relationship. Despite previous career success, Faulkner had sunk into a depression prior to meeting Williams.
"She's credited with jump-starting his career," says Bowen. "Before meeting her, he was abusing drugs and alcohol, and he hadn't been writing much. Then, not long after they began their correspondence, he published A Fable."
Bowen, too, believes that his mother should be remembered for more than her romantic life.
"Much of my mother's work has tremendous potential for films," he says. "So we'll see what happens."
Me Too, Mr. Faulkner premieres this weekend at the Gravity Lounge July 30 at 8pm ($8) and July 31 at 3pm ($5).
The playbill for Me Too, Mr. Faulkner includes a photogaraph taken in Williams' Greenwich Village apartment
Director Matt Bowen
PHOTO BY HAWES SPENCER