Author, professor and Oxford native Gloria Burgess will discuss her latest book “Pass It On!,” which shares the true story of her father Earnest McEwen Jr. and his life-changing relationship with William Faulkner, at Off Square Books on Saturday. The acclaimed writer funded her father’s dream of going to college.
The idea to write this book came to Burgess about 20 years ago, while she was speaking with one of her clients who encouraged her to write the story before somebody else did.
“He said, ‘Well, have you ever written it down?’ and I said, ‘Well, no. Why should I?’ He said, ‘You should. It’s your story, and you have your point of view about it. People need to hear about it and they need to see and hear about it in your words,’” Burgess said.
According to Burgess, this was the spark that got her thinking about writing the story down instead of just sharing it verbally.
Ernie, as he was affectionately called by friends and family, dreamed about going to college as a young boy. He got a job in his hometown of Oxford and began working as a janitor at Ole Miss. At the time, the university was still segregated, so he could not go to school there. Little did her father know he was one step closer to his dream.
“One of the professors heard about my father and his story and about his dreams and they reached out to my father and fell in love with him,” Burgess said. “They said you are an incredible human being, we love your determination and your vision and we want to introduce you to someone who can make your dream come true. That person ended up being William Faulkner.”
While Burgess was writing “Pass It On!,” her father passed away.
Annie McEwen, Gloria’s sister, remembers her father as an incredibly honest man who took care of his children. She emphasized how important education was to him, and that in his house, not going to college was not an option. She said she appreciates the things he taught them and the principles he modeled for them.
Annie said she was thrilled when she found out that her sister was writing a book on their father.
“I don’t know if she originally envisioned it being a children’s book. It just came out that way,” Annie said. “She let the Lord lead that, and I believe that when you let God lead things and believe in divine intervention then you do what he asks you do, so it came out as a children’s book.”
Annie said she loves the idea of a children’s book because it is relatable to everyone. She described her parents as incredible role models who created a legacy, thanks to William Faulkner who paved the way for her father to go to college. Because of him, Annie and her siblings can pass on the things they have learned.
“At a time when this country was racially divided, these two men were extraordinary in my opinion – William Faulkner and my dad,” Burgess said.
When Burgess isn’t writing books, she is busy running her corporation Jazz Inc. She is the CEO of the leadership consulting company. Outside of Jazz, she is also an accomplished speaker and professor.
Burgess is now working on another book on leadership and pondering with the idea of writing a sequel to “Pass It On!”
“I’m continuing to do research on my dad because there is more to the story, and people are encouraging me to write a sequel about Ernie. I don’t know if I will, but that’s certainly something I’m thinking about,” she said.
What she loves the most about her job is discovering something that she didn’t expect to discover. She hopes that people will read this story and find someone within themselves.
“I hope that people will discover a different dimension of Faulkner and that they will hear this story and find young people that they can share it with,” she said. “I hope that the people that come will discover something about themselves.”