A Daring Life

A Daring Life: A Biography of Eudora Welty

Carolyn J. Brown
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 144
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt24hvt4
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  • Book Info
    A Daring Life
    Book Description:

    Mississippi author Eudora Welty, the first living writer to be published in the Library of America series, mentored many of today's greatest fiction writers and is a fascinating woman, having lived the majority of the twentieth century (1909-2001). Her life reflects a century of change and is closely entwined with many events that mark our recent history. This biography follows this twentieth-century path while telling Welty's story, beginning with her parents and their important influence on her reading and writing life. The chapters that follow focus on her education and her most important teachers; her life during the Depression and how her career, just getting started, is interrupted by World War II; and how she shows independence and courage through her writing during the turbulent civil rights period of the 1950s and 1960s.

    After years of care giving and the deaths of all her immediate family members, Welty persevered and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for The Optimist's Daughter. Her popularity soared in the 1980s after she delivered the three William E. Massey Lectures to standing-room-only crowds at Harvard, and the lectures were later published asOne Writer's Beginningsand became a New York Times bestseller. This biography intends to introduce readers to one of the most significant women writers of the past century, a prolific author who transcends her Mississippi roots and has written short stories, novels, and non-fiction that will endure for all time.

    eISBN: 978-1-61703-297-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-1)
  3. 1 Life in Jackson: Eudora’s Early Years
    (pp. 3-14)

    Seeing a snowflake for the first time is one of these moments. Eudora Welty recounts this experience she had as a six-year-old elementary student in music class. She was living in Mississippi, in the hot and humid South, where snow was seldom seen, and she remembers how her teacher stamped this moment in her memory:

    [Miss Johnson] was from the North, and she was the one who wanted us all to stop the Christmas carols and see snow. The snow falling that morning outside the window was the first most of us had ever seen, and Miss Johnson threw up...

  4. 2 Eudora’s Education
    (pp. 15-27)

    Eudora credits her parents for what she calls her “knowledge of the word,” meaning her reading and spelling skills, because they taught her the alphabet at an early age. InOne Writer’s Beginnings, she describes how essential she believes the alphabet is as the cornerstone of learning:

    They taught it to me at home in time for me to begin to read before starting to school. I believe the alphabet is no longer considered an essential piece of equipment for traveling through life. In my day it was the keystone to knowledge. You learned the alphabet as you learned to...

  5. 3 The 1930s: Finding Her Eye and Her Voice
    (pp. 28-36)

    Back home in Jackson, Eudora reunited with old friends and felt more at ease than she had in Madison. She found part-time work at the local newspaper, theJackson Daily News, writing witty journalistic pieces. Several of her Jackson friends, however, had plans to enter graduate school at Columbia University in New York and encouraged Eudora to attend. She applied and was admitted in the fall of 1930 to Columbia Business School, the university’s advertising and secretarial program, a practical course of study which assisted in gaining her father’s approval of her move.

    Eudora was quickly bored with the advertising/marketing...

  6. 4 Before the War: Friends, Fellowship, and Early Success
    (pp. 37-48)

    The loss of her job as a junior publicity agent for the WPA turned out to be a boon as Eudora entered her most productive literary period ever, publishing ten stories between 1937 and 1939 and exhibiting photographs in a second show at Samuel Robbins’s new gallery in New York. Pulitzer Prize–winning author Robert Penn Warren, who was editor of theSouthern Reviewat this time, recognized Eudora’s talent and published six of her stories. Initially he had rejected Eudora’s story “Petrified Man,” but wrote back a year later requesting that Eudora resubmit it. Eudora, however, frustrated after it...

  7. 5 World War II: A Promising Career Interrupted
    (pp. 49-58)

    Eudora had a large circle of friends, but her relationship with John Robinson seems to have become more intense during the years leading up to World War II. War was in the background of daily life now; Eudora writes to Diarmuid Russell that military maneuvers are becoming a distraction to writing:

    Are big bombers flying all over New York and do they fly low, in under your desk? They do here, they fly under my bed at night, all those in the Louisiana manuevers go over Jackson when they make a curve, and really one went under the Vicksburg bridge...

  8. 6 The 1960s: Personal and Political Unrest
    (pp. 59-66)

    Concern over the health of loved ones became Eudora’s focus after the travel, awards, and success that highlighted her life during the first half of the 1950s. Chestina Welty’s eyes were deteriorating and she suffered from food allergies, and both of Eudora’s brothers were afflicted with arthritis. The fall of 1956 would see all three Weltys hospitalized briefly, and foreshadow more serious health complications to come. Eudora needed all of her strength and was forced to put aside her writing intermittently as she assisted her brothers and mother.

    A brief reprieve in 1957 that allowed for some writing was followed...

  9. 7 Grief and Recovery: The Optimist’s Daughter and One Writer’s Beginnings
    (pp. 67-74)

    The double loss Eudora experienced in January 1966—the deaths of both her mother and younger brother—were sorrows from which she struggled to heal. Writing and travel, as they had previously in her life, provided much needed distractions; Eudora had many friends on whom she could count to help her through this difficult time, and they did—she took to the road for several months, visiting college campuses and stopping to see friends such as Charles Shattuck, Diarmuid and Rose Russell, and fellow novelist Reynolds Price along the way. When at home, alone, she returned to writing, focusing on...

  10. 8 The Importance of Friendship: Eudora’s Final Days
    (pp. 75-84)

    The success ofOne Writer’s Beginningswas followed by a whirlwind of honors and accolades for Eudora, celebrating a lifetime of literary achievement. Between 1984 and 1998 she received no less than nine honorary degrees, from such varied and prestigious institutions as Wake Forest University, William and Mary, Princeton, the University of Burgundy in France, and Mississippi University for Women. During this period, Eudora also was awarded the National Medal of the Arts from President Reagan; the French Legion of Honor, in a ceremony held at the Old Capitol Museum in Jackson; and was named one of “Ten Great Faces”...

  11. Afterword Eudora Welty’s House
    (pp. 85-89)

    During her lifetime, Eudora Welty donated manuscripts, photographs, correspondence, published works, and secondary works about her fiction to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. The culmination of this great generosity came in 1986 when she deeded her home to the state of Mississippi, subject to a life estate interest. According to the Eudora Welty Foundation website, “in giving it to the State of Mississippi, she emphasized that it was the house of her family, a family that honored books and reading. She did not want a ‘house about her’ but about literature and the arts in culture.” Eudora’s house...

  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 90-91)
  13. Appendix 1 Eudora Welty’s Artwork
    (pp. 92-94)
  14. Appendix 2 Chronology of Eudora Welty’s Life
    (pp. 95-96)
  15. Appendix 3 Books by Eudora Welty
    (pp. 97-98)
  16. Appendix 4 Major Adaptations of Eudora Welty’s Works
    (pp. 99-99)
  17. Appendix 5 List of Honorary Degrees and Major Awards
    (pp. 100-103)
  18. Abbreviations Used in the Notes
    (pp. 104-104)
  19. Source Notes
    (pp. 105-112)
  20. Bibliography
    (pp. 113-116)
  21. Credits
    (pp. 117-120)
  22. Index
    (pp. 121-124)