At a Glance
Eudora Welty had good ears, the kind that can pick up and process the subtleties of a dialogue or an accent—the kind of ears that can make for great writing. And a great writer she undoubtedly was. Her most celebrated medium was the short story, and her main subject was the family, though she personally never married. Her favorite setting was generally the South, in particular Mississippi, where she spent the majority of her life. Imbuing her work with both a sense of humor and respect, Welty created characters that are often lonely and complex, full of longing but strangely fulfilled. Besides four collections of celebrated short stories, she also wrote an influential nonfiction book, On Writing (1942). Her main advice to new writers? Learn to listen, of course.
Facts and Trivia
- Although many of her stories feature eccentric and strong women, feminist scholars shunned Welty’s work for a long time because of negative comments she made about the feminist movement in the 1970s.
- Welty also had great eyes. She was an accomplished photographer who for three years during the 1930s took pictures of the Depression-stricken South.
- Intensely private, Welty refused to talk about personal influences in her work, preferring that the writing speak for itself.
- Welty was the first woman to enter Peterhouse College in Cambridge.
- Welty maintained her sense of humor until the end. When a doctor asked her if there was anything he could do as she lay dying, she quipped, “No, but thanks for inviting me to the party.”
Eudora Welty was born in Jackson, Mississippi, on April 13, 1909. Her father, Christian Webb Welty, was originally from rural Ohio; he had met Mary Chestina (“Chessie”) Andrews when he was working in West Virginia, where she was a teacher in the mountain schools near her home. To the dismay of her five adoring brothers, the new bride and her husband decided to move to Jackson. There Christian became a successful businessman. Eudora was their second child. As she recalls in One Writer’s Beginnings (1984), her parents did not speak freely of the baby boy who had died at birth, but Eudora was aware of being cherished and even sheltered.
Welty was an observant child. Sounds and sights, musical harmonies and the cadences of human voices, the coming and the fading of the seasons, the subtle changes in human beings—all were fascinating to her. With her two younger brothers, Welty could disappear into the world of the imagination. There were also trips north and east to visit both of her parents’ families. Her world was filled with stimuli, yet it was safe; the serenity that is evident in her fiction began with a happy childhood in a family filled with love.
Encouraged by her mother, Welty read a wide variety of books. Soon she was also writing. Her gifts were not only literary, however; in high school and later in college, she took lessons in drawing and painting. This visual gift was to be utilized in her photographs as well as in the memorable descriptive passages in her fiction.
After she graduated in 1925 from Central High School in Jackson, Welty spent two years at Mississippi State College for Women. In 1927, she transferred to the University of Wisconsin, where she majored in English. In One Writer’s Beginnings, she recalls the moment when she knew that literature must be her life; as she explains it, a poem by William Butler Yeats so imbued her with passion that she believed she could live within it, possessing it and possessed by it.
However, after Welty graduated from college in 1929, she followed her father’s advice: She went to New York City and entered the School of Business at Columbia University, studying advertising, so that she would be able to get a job. Unfortunately, when the Depression hit, there were no jobs in New York. In 1931, Welty returned to Jackson. That year, she suffered a great loss in the death of her father, who called himself the family optimist.
(The entire section is 3,317 words.)