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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Eudora Welty
(1909-2001)


Like that of Jane Austen, Eudora Welty’s canvas is small. She has had, as she wrote in One Writer’s Beginnings (1983), a “sheltered life” but one full of emotional daring. For nearly a century, Welty has lived in the small town of Jackson, Mississippi, where she was born in 1909. Her artistic sensibility is the product of a childhood framed by family and rooted in story. And this sensibility accounts for one of her great strengths as a writer: her ability to infuse the tradition of southern manners with the complex emotional truths of the twentieth-century South out of which she writes.

Welty’s formal education included attendance at Mississippi State College for Women, the University of Wisconsin, and the Columbia University School of Business; her first job, publicity assistant for the Works Progress Administration, helped to sharpen her eye and ear for the tasks of a fiction writer. Welty’s first short story appeared in 1936 and, with the help of Robert Penn Warren and Cleanth Brooks, she published six other stories over the next three years. A Curtain of Green, Welty’s first collection of stories, was published in 1941 with an excellent preface by Katherine Anne Porter. The forties also saw publication of Welty’s first short novel (The Robber Bridegroom, 1942), a second collection of stories (The Wide Net, 1943), a second novel (Delta Wedding, 1946), and a collection of interrelated stories (The Golden Apples, 1949). The Ponder Heart, a short novel, appeared in 1954, and a collection entitled The Bride of the Innesfallen was published the following year. In 1970, Welty’s longest novel, Losing Battles, was published, and her WPA-inspired photographs, One Time, One Place, appeared in 1971. The Optimist’s Daughter, a novel awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1972, was followed by a collection of essays, The Eye of the Story (1978), The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty (1980), and One Writer’s Beginnings (1983). Most recently, Welty co-edited The Norton Book of Friendship (1991). A collection of her book reviews (A Writer’s Eye) appeared in 1994. Four years later, Library of America published two collections of Welty’s work (Eudora Welty: Complete Novels and Eudora Welty: Stories, Essays and Memoir), edited by Richard Ford and Michael Kreyling. She was awarded the Medal of Arts in 1987.

Although critics disagree about how Welty’s fiction should be read, they have consistently recognized its importance. New Critics Robert Penn Warren and Cleanth Brooks included a sampling of Welty’s short stories in their classic text Understanding Fiction (1943). Since then, Welty has been claimed not only by critics of southern gothic literature, folklore, and mythology but also by modern and feminist critics. Her stories are a staple of American literature anthologies, and she continues to find an audience in colleges and universities across the country.

Welty has said that she writes out of an impulse “to praise,” and her fiction is often a celebration of life in all its mystery and complexity. Her characters are imbued with a sense of place (an emotional and associational texture described by Welty in her essay “Place in Fiction”) and are easily recognizable by their distinctive narrative voices. An admirer of William Faulkner’s work, Welty has a similar interest in “the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself.” In her work these problems are most often centered in a conflict between the desire to belong (whether to family or lover) and to preserve a separate identity. The root of this conflict is love, and Welty’s stories, however grotesque or comic, transcend regionalism in their universal themes.

Inasmuch as she grew up listening to and reading fairy tale, legend, and myth, Welty’s narrative technique owes as much to an oral as to a written tradition. Welty’s ability to hear the rhythms and patterns of speech is apparent in her narrative voices, which range from the hill country to the Mississippi Delta and the city. Her images are often grounded in the natural world, and her style is lyric and evocative.

Jennifer L. Randisi


Texts
In the Heath Anthology
The Wide Net (1943)

Other Works
A Curtain of Green (1941)
The Robber Bridegroom (1942)
Delta Wedding (1946)
The Golden Apples (1949)
The Ponder Heart (1954)
The Bride of Innesfallen (1955)
Losing Battles (1970)
One Time, One Place (1971)
The Optimist's Daughter (1972)
The Eye of the Story (1978)
The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty (1980)
One Writer's Beginnings (1983)



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Links

Eudora Welty Newsletter
(http://www.gsu.edu/~wwwewn/)
A sample edition of the journal (published since 1977) and general info about Welty's life, writing, and the scholarship about her work.

Featured Author: Eudora Welty
(http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/11/22/specials/welty.html)
A collection of myriad Welty interviews (some in audio format) and articles published in The New York Times.

Mississippi Writers Page
(http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/english/ms-writers/dir/welty_eudora/)
A lengthy biography.



Secondary Sources





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