Eudora Alice Welty was born in Jackson, Mississippi, on April 13, 1909. She would spend most of her life in Jackson. She was the only daughter of Christian Webb Welty and Mary Chestina Andrews Welty; she had two younger brothers. Soon after their marriage in 1904, Welty’s parents moved to Jackson. Her father, who came from Ohio, where his father owned a farm, was president of the well-established Lamar Life Insurance Company. Her mother, a West Virginian, was descended from pre-Revolutionary War Virginia stock, engendered by country preachers, teachers, and lawyers. Welty, who claimed that she would feel “shy, and discouraged at the very thought” of a biography about her, felt that a “private life should be kept private.” Still, though she insisted that it is the writer’s work, not his or her life, that is important, she did finally write a memoir of her family history and her early years, One Writer’s Beginnings, which was published in 1984 and received positive critical comment.
Perhaps one reason she suggested that her own biography would not “particularly interest anybody” is that she lived for the most part in the mainstream of American society. As Porter aptly observes in her introduction to A Curtain of Green, Welty was not the “spiritual and intellectual exile” that typifies the modern artist. She attended Central High School in Jackson, then was at Mississippi State College for Women, in Columbus, for two years before transferring to the University of Wisconsin in 1927. After graduating with a bachelor of arts degree in English in 1929, she enrolled in the School of Business at Columbia University, where she studied advertising for one year. By then, the United States was in the throes of the Depression, and she returned to Jackson to seek work.
During the next several years, Welty held a variety of jobs in advertising, radio scriptwriting, and part-time newspaper work. She also began writing stories. Possibly the most important of those early jobs was the position of junior publicity agent with the U.S. Works Progress Administration (WPA) from 1933 to 1936. In this position, Welty was required to travel extensively through Mississippi doing newspaper stories on various WPA projects. Her work involved taking photographs, talking with a great variety of people, and, perhaps most important, listening to them. As Welty herself confessed, she had a “good ear” and a visual imagination, qualities that enabled her to hear and observe things and people during those three years that she would use in her...
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