Jackson Square was now a green and quiet lake in which abode lights round as jellyfish, feathering with silver mimosa and pomegranate and hibiscus beneath which lantana and cannas bled and bled. Pontalba and cathedral were cut from black paper and pasted flat on a green sky; above them taller palms were fixed in black and soundless explosions. The street was empty, but from Royal street there came the hum of a trolley that rose to a staggering clatter, passed on and away leaving an interval filled with the gracious sound of inflated rubber on asphalt, like a tearing of endless silk.
Within earshot of the bells of St. Louis Cathedral, off the bustle of Jackson Square, is Faulkner House Books, a charming new and used bookstore at 624 Pirate’s Alley. It’s appropriately named, as William Faulkner lived here in 1925. Within eight months of moving in, he had written and published his first novel, Soldier’s Pay. He came to New Orleans an unrecognized poet of 27 and left for Paris a year later a literary up-and-comer.
Despite the sober nature of his first novel, Faulkner in person could be mischievous. He was known to shoot passersby with BB guns, alongside friend and artist William Spratling. He also was a part of a foot race over rooftops in the Quarter.
Though Faulkner didn’t live here until 1925, he was no stranger to New Orleans. From 1921 to 1923, he worked occasionally for a local bootlegger, bringing alcohol across Lake Pontchartrain.
Once in New Orleans, he fell in with the literary crowd of the era, which revolved around The Double Dealer. This literary magazine boasted the first published works of Faulkner, Hart Crane, and Robert Penn Warren. It was initially created as a response to H.L. Mencken’s description of New Orleans as a cultural wasteland.
During his time here, Faulkner wrote a series of essays and poetic sketches that were published both in The Double Dealer and The Times-Picayune.
Though Faulkner did not live in New Orleans for long, the impression the city left on him is obvious from its appearance in many of his books, notably Mosquitos, Absalom! Absalom!,Pylon, and Sartoris.
A designated literary landmark, the first-floor bookstore is elegant and well-stocked, specializing in rare editions — Faulkner, of course, as well as Tennessee Williams, Walker Percy, and other authors who are icons of Southern literature in general and New Orleans literature in particular.
The building is three stories tall and also serves as the headquarters for the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society, responsible for the annual Words and Music Literary Festival, coming November 9 and 10. I had the fortune of working with the Faulkner Society last fall and was privy to the additional floors, which feel like they belong to another era.
You can almost smell Faulkner’s pipe smoke.