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William Faulkner conference in Oxford focuses on slavery as theme

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — A conference at the University of Mississippi is focusing on what slavery meant in the life, imagination and writing of William Faulkner.

The 45th annual Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference runs Sunday through Thursday. Most activities are in Oxford, and there are tours of the Delta and other parts of north Mississippi.

“Obviously, the South that Faulkner writes about, even in his novels and stories of the 20th century, is to a significant degree a product of African slavery,” conference director Jay Watson, the Howry Professor of Faulkner Studies at Ole Miss, said in a university news release. “What makes this topic even more timely than it would ordinarily be, however, is that this August marks the beginning of the 400th year since African slavery was introduced into the English-speaking colonies of North America.”

One session will focus on the history of slavery at the University of Mississippi, and another will provide background about slavery in Oxford, Lafayette County and north Mississippi.

Conference speakers include Edward Baptist of Cornell University, an historian of slavery and American capitalism; Faulkner scholar John T. Matthews of Boston University; Tim Armstrong, author of a book on the logic of American slavery in 19th-century literature; and Stephen M. Best, a scholar of 19th-century African-American literature and law.

A guided tour led by Jodi Skipper, Ole Miss anthropology professor, focuses on her “Behind the Big House” research project, which focuses on slave quarters and other structures where slaves lived and worked in Holly Springs, north of Oxford.

“This tour won’t focus on Faulkner sites and legacies so much as sites and legacies of African slavery and African-American history in one particularly well-documented and preserved north Mississippi environment,” Watson said.