This Day In Literary History
On April 13th, 1909, the famous American writer Eudora Welty was born in Jackson, Mississippi. Her parents were both schoolteachers. They didn't come from the Deep South.
Her father moved to Mississippi hoping to improve his fortunes, as a schoolteacher's salary was meager in those days. He tried his hand at bookkeeping and worked his way up, eventually becoming President of an insurance company.
Eudora Welty and her two brothers grew up in a happy, close-knit family. Her parents' favorite evening pastime was reading books aloud to each other.
The Weltys were a liberal, intellectual upper-middle class family living in the fiercely conservative, racially troubled Deep South, an experience that would have a profound effect on Eudora and her writings.
After completing her education in the Jackson public schools, Eudora Welty enrolled at the Mississippi State College for Women, then transferred to the University of Wisconsin, where she earned her Bachelor's degree in liberal arts.
She had always dreamed of becoming a writer, but it was the Great Depression, and her father discouraged her from writing because he didn't believe she could make a decent living as a writer.
In 1921, when she was twelve years old, Eudora had entered an advertising jingle writing contest held by the Mackie Pine Oil company and won the $25 grand prize, so her father encouraged her to take up a career in advertising. She enrolled at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business in New York City.
It was 1930, and the Harlem Renaissance was in full swing. Eudora and her friends danced to jazz at black nightclubs and went to black theaters to see plays and musicals. Her love of the theater led her to see plays and musicals throughout New York City, both on and off Broadway.
When her father died in 1931, Eudora returned to Jackson. She found a job as a journalist, copywriter, and photographer for the Works Program Administration.
The WPA helped writers find work during the Depression. Eudora's work as a photographer took her on assignments throughout Mississippi, experiences she would use as fodder for her short stories.
Her first published story Death of a Traveling Salesman appeared in the literary magazine Manuscript in June of 1936. Within a couple of years, her stories would be published by respected national publications such as the Atlantic Monthly and the Southern Review.
In 1941, Eudora's first book was published. It was a short story collection titled A Curtain of Green. It received rave reviews. Her next collection, The Wide Net and Other Stories (1943) received mixed reviews.
She spent the next few years developing her skill and style, the results of which - her third short story collection, The Golden Apples (1949) - established her as a master of the form. In 1954, she won the William Dean Howells Medal of the Academy of Arts and Letters for her novella, A Ponder Heart.
For the next fifteen years, from 1955-1970, Eudora's writing output slowed to nearly a grinding halt, as she became occupied with teaching, traveling, and lecturing. She also nursed her mother through a long, fatal illness. Tragedy would continue to befall her, as she lost both of her brothers.
She did find time to work on her first novel, Losing Battles, which would be published in 1970. Far from a comeback novel, it received mixed reviews. But her next novel would win her the Pulitzer Prize.
The Optimist's Daughter (1972) tells the story of Laurel Hand, a widow who leaves her home in Chicago and goes to New Orleans to care for her aging father, Judge Clint McKelva, whose health is deteriorating following complications from an eye operation.
Laurel had been estranged from her father since he remarried after her mother died. Judge McKelva's new wife, Fay, turned out to be younger than his daughter Laurel, who is his only child.
When she's not caring for her father and reading Dickens to him, Laurel rediscovers New Orleans, the city she grew up in, and finds love and friendship in her community. Meanwhile, her stepmother Fay's antagonistic personality is the polar opposite of the warmhearted people of New Orleans.
Fay is an outsider from Texas, and she shows her true colors as her husband's health fails. After she throws a violent fit in the hospital, Judge McKelva dies from the shock of her outburst.
Later, Laurel is stunned when Fay's mother, siblings, and other relatives show up to attend her husband's funeral - Fay always claimed to have no family. Eventually, Laurel confronts Fay about her lie, but finds that she can feel only pity for the lonely, sullen Fay, who decides to go back to Texas with her family.
Laurel spends a few more days in her father's house, remembering her parents and the life she once had. She gains a new understanding of life and what influences it the most - family and friends. Mostly, she comes to understand herself.
Eudora followed her Pulitzer Prize winning novel with The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty (1980), which renewed interest in her short fiction and brought her more praise. In the 1980s, Eudora lectured at Harvard and published several works of non-fiction, including an autobiography, One Writer's Beginnings.
She retired in the early 1990s. Around this time, American software designer Steve Dorner named his new, breakthrough Internet e-mail client software after her. He was inspired by her famous short story, Why I Live at the P.O.
Eudora Welty's last published book was Country Churchyards (2000), which contained excerpts from her writings, a collection of her photographs, and essays by other writers on her work.
Two months after it was published, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York. She died in July of 2001 at the age of 92.
Quote Of The Day
"Great fiction shows us not how to conduct our behavior but how to feel. Eventually, it may show us how to face our feelings and face our actions and to have new inklings about what they mean. A good novel of any year can initiate us into our own new experience." - Eudora Welty
Today's video features Eudora Welty reading her classic short story, Why I Live at the P.O. Enjoy!