During his lifetime, William Faulkner was considered one of his country's most influential writers. Yet, the focus of his work was on one small part of the American South, his native Mississippi.  

Many of his novels deal with violence and bigotry in the South during the first half of the 20th century. But the place where he wrote was a peaceful home in the forest that even today seems far removed from strife and sorrow.

Faulkner wrote his most famous novels at his mansion in the woods. He named it Rowan Oak, for a Scottish tree that was a symbol of security and peace.

He lived there from 1930 until his death in 1962.

From this place, Faulkner examined what he called his "postage stamp" world, the small area of northeastern Mississippi where he found inspiration.

William Griffith is curator of what is now the William Faulkner Rowan Oak Museum,  owned by the University of Mississippi.

"He was really the first writer to write about the modern South,  to break the old antebellum code and write about the modern South," Griffith explained. "A South that was torn between modern development and the old traditional ways of the past."

Novels like "The Sound and the Fury" told of dysfunctional southern families set against a decaying region.

Faulkner also took jobs writing screenplays in Hollywood, using this portable typewriter.

He was a writer on famous movies like "The Big Sleep" and "To Have and To Have Not," starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

Back at Rowan Oak in his rear study, he worked on the plot of his Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, "A Fable," jotting notes on the walls.

One of Faulkner's most compelling novels is "Light in August."  The central character is a white man who believes he has some African-American blood.   

In this book, Faulkner throws a harsh light on the South's racial divisions years before the Civil Rights movement swept many of them away.

University of Mississippi Professor Ted Ownby says Faulkner's novel showed the absurdity of racism.  

"It is not just a book about black and white, it is a book about the reality of people needing to know, the society that expects everybody to know and care and fit into certain groups because of their own racial identity," Ownby said. "And that is a good way of raising the question 'what does race mean?'"

Ownby says Faulkner's novels still enlighten readers because the stories tackle universal themes that transcend time and place.

"It has to do with class and gender relations and sexuality and the future and all sorts of other topics," Ownby stated. "But that is part of making Faulkner real is bringing up questions that are still interesting, complex questions."

In 1949, Faulkner won the Nobel Prize for Literature.  In his speech, still famous, he said "man will not merely endure, he will prevail."   

An optimistic note from a man who, strolling through the woods at Rowan Oak, often examined the darker side of the human soul.