Collections and Resources, Literary, Southern Historical Collection, Special Collections

Diary in Southern Historical Collection May Have Inspired Faulkner

A page from the diary of Francis Terry Leak in the Southern Historical Collection at UNC's Wilson Special Collections Library.

A page from the diary of Francis Terry Leak in the Southern Historical Collection at UNC's Wilson Special Collections Library.

A scholar of Southern literature has found in UNC’s Southern Historical Collection a diary that she says provided inspiration to novelist William Faulkner.

The Feb. 11 New York Times reported that Sally Wolff-King, of Emory University, uncovered the connection between Faulkner and a journal kept during the mid-1800s by Mississippi plantation owner Francis Terry Leak.

Her research suggests that the diary was the model for a ledger Faulkner described in his 1942 novel Go Down, Moses, and it provided many names and details that he used in his writings about the fictional Yoknapatawpha County.

The Times quotes John Lowe, an English professor at Louisiana State University and a Faulkner scholar, describing the find as “one of the most sensational literary discoveries of recent decades.”

The diary came to the Southern Historical Collection in 1946 from one of Leak’s descendants, who received a typed transcription of the volumes in exchange. It is part of the Francis Terry Leak Papers, and is widely available on microfilm in many research libraries. The Southern Historical Collection plans to digitize the Leak Papers and make them available online.

For information about the Leak Papers, contact the Southern Historical Collection: (919) 962-1345 or mss@email.unc.edu.

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