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Benjamin F. Wasson, Jr., was born November 17, 1899, to B. F. Wasson (born 1868) and Rebeka Oliver (born 1875) in Greenville, Mississippi. He attended the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) in Oxford, Mississippi, where he met William Faulkner. Their shared interest in art and literature made them friends. Ben Wasson knew William Alexander Percy and even introduced Faulkner to him in 1921. Wasson, Faulkner, and Judge Lucy Somerville Howorth were instrumental in founding the dramatic society at Ole Miss. Ben Wasson, who would prove to be one of Faulkner’s few lifelong friends, was a homosexual, though he was not the only homosexual on the campus at Ole Miss in the late 1910s. He was simply the one whom Faulkner chose to court.
Wasson is best known as Faulkner’s literary agent, friend, and sounding board. In a 1977 interview in Greenville with Ben Wasson and his sister Mary Wilkinson by Mississippi writer Charlotte Capers, Capers states that Wasson was a novelist, critic, and dramatist, and friend to many Mississippi writers. Wasson wrote a regular arts column for the Greenville Delta Democrat-Times.
Wasson graduated with his law degree in 1921 and moved home to Greenville, but he often returned to Oxford, to visit Faulkner. In 1927 Wasson decided to give up practicing law in Greenville to move to New York to try his hand as an author and literary agent. Describing his first apartment on MacDougal Street across from the Provincetown Theatre, Wasson brags in his memoir, “I thought when I became an occupant of that room that I had become a genuine Greenwich Villager. When Bill [Faulkner] first saw it, he remarked, Ah, the Bohemian life!’”. Wasson’s family was less thrilled. He recalls, “My mother and father and my sister Mary Wilkinson and her husband were outraged that I lived in that house and neighborhood. Mary wept and called the room disgusting”. Wasson leaves the reasons for their objections unclear except to emphasize the proximity of his apartment to Washington Square, the heart of Greenwich Village. In the coded language of his memoir, Wasson is advertising that he lived in the gay epicenter of New York, near Washington Square and not simply on the fringes of the Village in some out-of-the-way alley.
Wasson’s first effort as a literary agent occurred when Wasson was living in New York and a poor Faulkner sent him the manuscript for Flags in the Dust. At the time Wasson was writing his own novel, The Devil Beats his Wife, but he took the time to take Faulkner’s manuscript to various publishers. Faulkner himself traveled to New York to see Wasson. In the end, Wasson’s own publisher, Harcourt, Brace and Harrison Smith, agreed to publish Faulkner’s novel if Wasson would edit it, which he did for $50. Faulkner was paid $300 for the manuscript, which, according to Wasson, was then stolen, so they had to ask the publisher for more money to get Faulkner home. The novel was eventually published as Sartoris.
In 1930 in the first year of William Faulkner's marriage, he needed a more immediate marketing strategy to hype his novel and, hopefully, reap some monetary reward. His agent in New York, Ben Wasson, found the perfect platform for a large audience of potential readers in the weekly radio show of the famous critic and member of the Algonquin Round Table, Alexander Woollcott. Ben Wasson’s tenure as Faulkner’s agent had no single original moment, but rather evolved over time. As early as 1924, Wasson assisted in promoting The Marble Faun by writing to the Billy Levere Memorial Sigma Alpha Epsilon House in Evanston, Illinois, to include it in the SAE published record of alumni accomplishments. He also sent along Faulkner’s picture, which he had convinced Faulkner to have taken in Greenville on 29 March, by Willa Johnston, whom Wasson identified in an interview as a lesbian. Wasson had previously introduced Faulkner to William Alexander Percy in Greenville as well.
In Harlem in 1932 William Faulkner with Ben Wasson visited a drag bar along with Carl Van Vechten and his boyfriend. They went to see Gladys Bentley perform.
Wasson went to Hollywood in 1933 as a movie agent, but he returned to New York in 1938 again to be a literary agent. In the late 1940’s, he moved back to Greenville, Mississippi, where he became literary and arts editor for the Delta Democrat Times.
Wasson and Faulkner had a several-decades-long friendship, though Wasson outlived Faulkner by almost twenty years. Wasson died on May 10, 1982, before his book, Count No’Count: Flashbacks to Faulkner, was published in 1983. The final preparation for the publication of his memoir about Faulkner (or flashbacks as Wasson calls them) about Faulkner was approved by his sister, Mary Wasson Wilkington.
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Gordon, Phillip. Gay Faulkner (p.14). University Press of Mississippi. Edizione del Kindle.