Preserving William Faulkner's historic home

 

Donor Sandra Miller Black of Madison is pictured among some of William Faulkner's belongings at Rowan Oak in Oxford.

Donor Sandra Miller Black of Madison is pictured among some of William Faulkner's belongings at Rowan Oak in Oxford. Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

Special to The Dispatch

 

 

William Faulkner's desk, typewriter and resting bed are fixtures in the office of the late Nobel Prize-winning author's Oxford home. Peering in, it's easy to imagine the writer, pipe in hand, contemplating his next sentence. 

 

One of his biggest fans is making sure that ambiance is preserved. 

 

"I can't imagine that the university didn't already own all of this furniture, and it was just a shock to me that it could leave, that they could just pick it up in a truck and take it away," said Sandra Miller Black, of Madison, whose recent $500,000 gift helped the University of Mississippi ensure that all of Faulkner's furnishings would remain in the home. 

 

Faulkner's house, affectionately named Rowan Oak by the author himself in 1931, along with the outbuildings and land, were purchased by the university in 1974 and added to its University Museum and Historic Houses. But all furnishings remained the property of Faulkner's extended family. 

 

"My husband has been very generous in giving me monthly allowances," said Black, who is married to John Black, a UM Foundation board member. "With these, I bought the children's birthday gifts, household supplies and paid some bills, that kind of thing. 

 

"But I always had a nice amount left over and I invested it early on in Apple, Google and Amazon. It grew and grew, and I was able to accumulate enough money to be able to make this gift." 

 

Black was inspired to affix Faulkner's furniture to his home in perpetuity by Interim Chancellor Larry Sparks, who told her of the need. So his request plus her longtime love of the author's work and home were a good fit. 

 

"We are so grateful to Sandy for her gift, which will ensure that generations of Faulkner fans continue to visit Rowan Oak and be able to enjoy his historic home in its entirety," Sparks said. "This is good for Rowan Oak and it's good for Ole Miss, Oxford and the state of Mississippi." 

 

 

 

Sustained support 

 

Black fell in love with Faulkner's home in 1989 when she and a group of friends began attending the Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference, a celebration of the author's work that draws hundreds of visitors to Oxford from all over the world. Annually, Rowan Oak draws upwards of 60,000 visitors from all 50 states and more than 50 foreign countries. 

 

In 2015, the Blacks made an $11 million gift to the University of Mississippi Medical Center, the largest private gift ever received by UMMC in a single year. Since then, the Blacks also made a major gift to renovate the guest house at the chancellor's home and they consistently support Ole Miss athletics. 

 

"We couldn't be more thrilled with Sandy's gift to the university and we greatly appreciate her vision in desiring that future generations of Faulkner fans fall in love with Rowan Oak as she has," said Robert Saarnio, director of the University Museum and Historic Houses. 

 

Curator Bill Griffith agreed: "Rowan Oak without its furniture would simply be Faulkner's house. Thanks to Sandy Black, the property will remain his home." 

 

Home to Faulkner and his family for more than 40 years, Rowan Oak was built in 1844 and stands on some 29 acres of land just south of the Square and campus in Oxford. The house is open most days and the grounds are open dawn to dusk year-round. There's no fee to visit the grounds, but admission to tour the house is $5 cash. 

 

For information on supporting culture and arts at Ole Miss, contact Rob Jolly, development officer, at 662-915-3085 or [email protected]

 

 

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