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Noel Polk, Friend and Scholar

From: Eudora Welty Review
Volume 5, Spring 2013
pp. 9-11 | 10.1353/ewr.2013.0010

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Noel Polk, a member of both the advisory and editorial boards of the Eudora Welty Review and an internationally recognized Welty and Faulkner scholar, died on August 21, 2012, in Jackson, Mississippi, after a short illness. Polk was a central figure in Welty and Faulkner studies for nearly fifty years. His 1994 bibliography of Welty’s work will remain indispensable for scholars, collectors, and students as a standard reference text for Welty studies. His many lectures on Welty’s fiction at conferences in the United States and abroad, his published critical and bibliographical essays, his editorial practice at Southern Quarterly and Mississippi Quarterly—though all only segments of his scholarly career—are remarkable achievements. As Pearl McHaney said at his memorial service, “He was the lion in Welty’s garden.”

Noel was, especially in recent years, so widely traveled as a lecturer that one hardly knew where he was calling from. He spoke to literary audiences throughout Europe and in Russia, Australia, Japan, and South America and held guest professorships in France. He is most remembered by his friends and students for twenty-seven years as a professor of English at the University of Southern Mississippi, where he did remarkable editorial work with The Southern Quarterly, and, from 2004, at Mississippi State University, where he edited Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Cultures, and served on the advisory committee for the College of Arts and Sciences. He was more than underfoot locally, joining in the spirited support of the arts in Mississippi and helping found the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters to recognize artistic achievement in the state.

Noel also did the editorial work for the corrected editions of all of William Faulkner’s novels published in The Library of America and as individual volumes by Faulkner’s publisher Random House. With a colleague, he had, before his illness became acute, just completed for the Folio Society a new edition of Faulkner’s signature work The Sound and the Fury, carrying out the Mississippi modernist’s wish to employ different colors of ink for each level of time represented in the opening section of that remarkable novel that is cast in the mental voice of the afflicted Benjy Compson.

Polk also did important editorial work on The Faulkner Concordances issued out of the United States Military Academy at West Point, and the 25-volume compendium of facsimiles of Faulkner manuscripts and typescripts from the New York Public Library and the University of Virginia published by G. K. Hall. His Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun: A Critical Study and Children of the Dark House: Text and Context in Faulkner, and numerous essays, collected and uncollected, gave significant direction to Faulkner studies. Among other important work, he took over editing the “Reading Faulkner” series for the University Press of Mississippi, and with Stephen M. Ross, produced the volume on reading The Sound and the Fury, a glossary and commentary to that novel. He edited An Anthology of Mississippi Writers, did the textual work for the restored edition of Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men, and published a touching memoir, Outside the Southern Myth, and a very recent collection of poems, Walking Safari.

As tributes to him poured in from all over the United States and from abroad during the late stages of his illness, it must have been clear to Noel that he will be remembered not only as a remarkably prolific scholar and a generous teacher, but also a kind, gracious friend who lived life fully—loved to travel, loved his rose bushes, loved going to baseball games, loved his children and grandchildren, and cherished a properly made gin and tonic. And despite being a world traveler, he was happiest at home with his friends and family. We who knew him through his work on Welty, or by what he also accomplished in Faulkner studies, remember him most for his sense of humor, his outrage against injustice and political stupidity, his inspiring teaching, his love of his children Scott and Jennifer and his three marvelous grandchildren, Sam, Emily, and Francie Heidelberg, and his unfailing generosity toward his friends, fellow scholars, and the students whom he invariably...

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