NORTH MISSISSIPPI 457 moved to Oxford just before his fifth birthday. Faulkner would live, off and on, in Oxford most of his life. “Billy” showed promise early in school but failed to graduate high school. With the outbreak of World War I, he went to Canada to join the Royal Flying Corps in 1918. Returning to Oxford, he paraded down the streets in his uniform, sporting flying wings and a cane. He told tall tales of his exploits, claiming serious wounds in combat, although he never left Canada and probably never flew solo. Amused by his pretensions, locals mocked him as “Count No Account.” Taking advantage of a provision admitting veterans, Faulkner briefly attended the University of Mississippi, writing numerous poems and short stories for The Mississippian. He traveled to New Orleans and New York. Faulkner’s first novel, Soldier’s Pay, was printed in 1926 in a limited run of 2,500 copies. He seemed to be living down to his image of a struggling artist. American scholars consider Faulkner’s publications between 1929 and 1942 as perhaps the greatest burst of creativity in American literature. Starting with The Sound and the Fury, Faulkner vaulted to international acclaim. In France he was “worshipped as a demigod.” Faulkner’s greatest creation was the most famous fictional county in American literature: Mississippi’s Yoknapatawpha County. Referring to it as his “apocryphal county,” in a triumph of imagination Faulkner explored and mapped this land in sixteen novels and dozens of short stories. Above all, Yoknapatawpha was a fictional history of Lafayette County built from the stories Faulkner absorbed as a child and young adult. There is little evidence that Faulkner did any reading or research into Lafayette’s history. Instead he reimagined the folk tales and beliefs of his family, friends, and neighbors. As he explained in a later interview, beginning with the novel Satoris, “I discovered that my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about…and by sublimating the actual into the apocryphal,” giving him complete liberty to use all his talents. The name itself was the old Cherokee name for Yocana River, a tributary of the Tallahatchie in southern Lafayette. Years later, Faulkner told a University of Virginia audience that the name meant “water flows through flat land.” As a child, Faulkner spent endless hours listening to the tales of elderly veterans sitting in front of the courthouse. He recalled there were many who remembered slavery, lived through the war, and endured Reconstruction. He enjoyed stories by “Mammie” Caroline Barr of the “Ole Times,” including tales of the “Old Colonel,” his great grandfather, William Clark Falkner (as his name was spelled then). In family tradition, Colonel Falkner was enshrined as “a household god.” He was the patriarch, the founder of the family fortune. William Clark Falkner arrived in North Mississippi, supposedly a penniless teenager making his fortune in 1842. Aggressive, arrogant, and intensely ambitious, he soon made his mark. He killed two men in duels, served as the Colonel of a Mississippi Regiment during the War, and later founded a railroad. Scholars agree that the “Old Colonel” served as an inspiration for Colonel John Sartoris, the tragic defender of the antebellum old order. However, in his ruthless, amoral drive, he also served as a model for Flem Snopes, symbol of the worst of the “New South.” In 1949, William Faulkner was awarded the Nobel Prize for Fiction. His December 10, 1950, acceptance speech is widely considered the most eloquent ever delivered at a Nobel Prize ceremony. Slight and soft-spoken, Faulkner was not an effective public speaker. But his words more than made up for his delivery. Alluding to Cold War fears of nuclear war, “a general and universal physical fear,” he called upon young writers to remember why human beings write. It was to explore “the problems of the human heart in conflict,” the only subject worth the agony and sweat of authorship. He concluded, “I decline to accept the end of man...I believe that man will not only endure: he will prevail.” Faulkner would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction twice, once for 1954’s The Fable and again for his last novel, 1962’s The Reivers. The Fight Against Erosion The economic catastrophe of the Great Depression hit the counties in the midst of an ongoing ecological catastrophe. Generations of over farming the same crops of cotton and corn exhausted the soil of its fertility. Even before the Civil War, travelers reported exhausted land abandoned as worthless, denuded of trees and cover, exposed to the effects of rain, wind and sun. The rich topsoil washed away in enormous quantities. A government survey in 1908 reported “about 2,000,000 tons of soil have been washed out of one large ravine in Marshall County.” The study concluded that over 30 percent of the land area of three counties in North Mississippi had been ruined by erosion. William Faulkner drew upon his intimate knowledge of American scholars consider Faulkner’s publications between 1929 and 1942 as perhaps the greatest burst of creativity in American literature.