Mississippi letters lost a champion when Noel Polk passed away at home after an illness. A longtime professor of English literature at the University of Southern Mississippi and later Mississippi State University, he was well-known here in Oxford mainly due to his perennial appearances at the Faulkner Conference, where he often spoke. A scholar of two of Mississippi’s greatest writers, William Faulkner and Eudora Welty, he was involved in the editing of some of Faulkner’s original texts and the Library of America editions of Faulkner. He published Children of the Dark House: Text and Context in Faulkner and Eudora Welty: A Bibliography of Her Work. A fine extract of his personal history, Outside the Southern Myth, may be found here on the site of the American Scholar.
While Noel’s scholarship could be arcane – he really got down to the nitty gritty -- a personal encounter with Noel was always open, engaging, and very friendly. His contagious energy not only gave creation to the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters, he also kept a hand in sustaining the organization since he helped found it in 1978. It is no surprise to those who knew Noel that his generous enthusiasm for literature included a constant support for us here at Square Books.
Noel got his PhD at the University of South Carolina after completing his other degrees at Mississippi College, where he was a member of the MC literary brat pack that included Peggy Prenshaw, Evans Harrington, Barry Hannah, and many others. Mississippi’s powerhouse of literary greatness continues to cast its shadow over the world, and Noel worked in the boiler room. We will miss him, and extend our condolences to all his friends and family. RH