Critical Context (Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)
Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings is a firsthand account of a life lived in pursuit of story. As such, it is an almost irresistible personal testimony, a narrative which, as slight as it seems on the surface, is actually a profound document about the birth and development of an artist’s consciousness. When Welty first gave the lectures that make up this memoir, students stood in line and sat in the aisles to hear her speak. The book itself was just as enthusiastically received.
The remarkable reception of the lectures and the book suggests a belated appreciation of a lifetime of careful and caring artistic creation. It seems that the older Welty gets the more precious she becomes to those who know her work. During the 1980’s, she was interviewed, written about, lauded, and heaped with more academic accolades than she had ever received during the time she was doing her most celebrated work. Each Welty birthday becomes the occasion for pilgrimages to Jackson by her admirers and the excuse to publish new collections of appreciations and explications.
One Writer’s Beginnings is required reading for anyone who knows Welty’s fiction, for although it does not give specific sources for the material of her stories, it does provide the basis for all of her work—a keen eye for detail, a sensitive ear for the nuances of speech, and most important, a kind and noble heart. This memoir will remain a classic in American literature, for it is a deeply felt personal document about a most sensitive lady of letters.