In 1921, 24-year-old William Faulkner had dropped out of the University of Mississippi for the second time and was living in Greenwich Village, working in a bookstore—but he was getting restless. Eventually, his mentor, Phil Stone, an Oxford attorney, arranged for him to be appointed postmaster at the school he had only recently left. He was paid a salary of $1,700 in 1922 and $1,800 in the following years, but it’s unclear how he came by that raise, because by all accounts he was uniquely terrible at his job. “I forced Bill to take the job over his own declination and refusal,” Stone said later, according to David Minter’s biography. “He made the damndest postmaster the world has ever seen.”
Faulkner would open and close the office whenever he felt like it, he would read other people’s magazines, he would throw out any mail he thought unimportant, he would play cards with his friends or write in the back while patrons waited out front. Somehow he managed to keep his post for three years, but in September of 1924, he was reviewed by a Postoffice Inspector from Corinth, Mississippi, and the review was not good:
“The following charges have been made against you as postmaster at University, Mississippi,” the inspector writes.
That you are neglectful of your duties, in that you are a habitual reader of books and magazines, and seem reluctant to cease reading long enough to wait on the patrons; that you have a book being printed at the present time, the greater part of which was written while on duty at the post office; that some of the patrons will not trust you to forward their mail, because of your past carelessness and these patrons have their neighbors forward same for them while away on their vacations; that you have failed to forward and properly handle mail for various patrons of the office.
The inspector goes on to accuse Faulkner of various other faults, including failing to deliver letters, mistreating mail of all types, permitting “unauthorized persons” into the office, and writes that he has heard reports of how Faulkner is “indifferent to interest of patrons, unsocial, rarely ever speak[ing] to patrons of the office unless absolutely necessary; that you do not give the office the proper attention, opening and closing same at your convenience; that you can be found playing golf during office hours,” and “that you have thrown mail ... in the garbage can by the side entrance, near the rear door ... that this has gotten to be such a common occurrence that some patrons have gone to this garbage can to get their magazines, should they not be in their boxes when they looked for them.”
The inspector requested that Faulkner reply to the charges within five days. In response (though clearly not within five days), Faulkner sent this letter:
As long as I live under the capitalistic system, I expect to have my life influenced by the demands of moneyed people. But I will be damned if I propose to be at the beck and call of every itinerant scoundrel who has two cents to invest in a postage stamp.
This, sir, is my resignation.
In 1987, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative 22-cent postage stamp bearing the writer’s likeness, designed by Bradbury Thompson, and based on a portrait by Murray L. Goldsborough. “It’s as if the United States Postal Service had forgiven him for the mail he had lost in the trash barrel in light of his proven deserts in other fields,” Eudora Welty said at the time. Very charitable of them.