William Faulkner - Famed Author and Most-Famous Physical Plant Manager Ever?

  December 7, 2015

When a young William Faulkner took a job as the overnight power plant supervisor at the University of Mississippi in 1929, it is likely nobody imagined the author emerging as the most famous maintenance and engineering manager in the history of the profession.

Of course, Faulkner achieved his fame through a different career. But the story of his brief dalliance into maintenance and engineering field is still interesting.

While trying to establish his legacy as a writer and make money to support his new wife and two stepchildren, Faulkner took the supervisor job, manning the coal-fired plant that supplied electricity to the university and the town of Oxford. As this story from the Associated Press describes, Faulkner was not exactly busy during his 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift. That gave him time to write, using an upside down wheelbarrow as a table inside a coal bunker and a sheaf of papers rolled up in a rubber band that he brought along every night. And during the time of Oct. 29 to Dec. 11 he wrote “As I Lay Dying,” one of his most famous works.

The story came to light recently as the university announced plans to demolish the 1908 building where Faulkner worked to help pave the way for a $135 million science building.

The old plant building now sits vacant. According to a director of the Historic Preservation Division at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, the building looks little like the original design due to modern replacements and the demolition of the original smokestack.

The AP story adds that the power plant job was Faulkner’s last non-writing job. University officials are planning to build a commemorative space honoring the site and Faulkner’s impact there. The university also maintains Faulkner’s home in the Oxford area, Rowan Oak, as a tourist attraction, demonstrating his impact on the community.

The AP reports that Faulkner’s 1932 story “Centaur In Brass” features the power plant. A recurring character worked there as a power plant superintendent.


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