Oxford

Overview

Introduction

If you weren't already aware of it, a statue on the courthouse square makes it clear: This is the hometown of William Faulkner—one of the literary heavyweights of the 20th century. The relationship between Faulkner and Oxford is an enduring one. The author modeled most of his settings on the town (called Jefferson in his novels) and the surrounding area (his Yoknapatawpha County). What we enjoy most about Oxford is that it still manages to seem a lot like the town Faulkner depicted, yet it avoids being a touristy re-creation. It's a quiet, pleasant place with an early-1900s look and a vital academic atmosphere that comes courtesy of the University of Mississippi.

The best place to appreciate the author's legacy—or just to enjoy some tranquil surroundings—is at Rowan Oak, Faulkner's longtime home, now run by the university. You can tour the white clapboard house (built in the 1840s) and see Faulkner's office—the working outline of the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Fable is scrawled across the walls. But what we enjoyed most was simply walking through the oak and magnolia trees that fill the property and enjoying the serene atmosphere of the place. The most scenic way to reach Rowan Oak is to walk the Faulkner Trail that runs through Bailey's Woods from the university campus.

Downtown Oxford is centered around the Lafayette County Courthouse. (In addition to the Faulkner sculpture, there's a much-older statue of a Confederate soldier that stands on a tall column: It's mentioned in the conclusion of Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury.) On the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) campus, you'll find the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, where you can view limited-run exhibits and inquire about seminars and tours that the center sometimes offers. The university's John D. Williams Library displays Faulkner's Nobel Prize citation as well as other papers and mementos related to the author.

Thanks to the presence of the university, Oxford has some lively nightspots and a good reputation for live music. Some interesting shops are found on the town square, including Square Books (with a large selection and many literary events) and Neilson's Department Store (said to be one of the oldest stores in the country—opened in 1839). The annual Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha County Conference takes place in July. 160 mi/255 km northeast of Jackson.

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