Critical Context (Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)
One Writer’s Beginnings is a personal memoir by one of the United States’ great modern writers, but its interest for readers, both younger and older, goes beyond satisfying curiosity about a famous artist. Although there is much interesting biographical information in this book that can enrich one’s reading of Welty’s fiction, there are also several other interests that the book can serve. Welty offers a picture of Southern, urban life early in the twentieth century, with memorable brief portraits of grandparents, uncles, teachers, librarians, neighbors, servants, and evangelists and with telling glimpses of social institutions of special interest to a girl growing up in this time and place.
Welty’s main purpose was to provide information about her development into a literary artist. She associates herself with many modern writers who have written artistic biographies—sometimes fictionalized, as in the case of James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), but fairly often brief factual accounts, such as this one, given in response to the request of some part of an admiring public. Welty’s account of her artistic development stands out for its absence of strong opposing forces; she concentrates on those aspects of her experience that stimulated and nurtured her artistic talents.
One Writer’s Beginnings is the ideal source for a student to turn to in order to be-gin to know Welty after reading some of her stories, and it is a good book for young writers to read as they begin to think about the importance for their own writing of listening, seeing, and finding a voice.