Discipline: Literature – fiction

Eudora Welty

Discipline: Literature – fiction
Region: Jackson, MS

Edward MacDowell Medalist: 1970

Eudora Alice Welty (1909-2001) was an American short story writer and novelist who wrote about the American South. Throughout her writing are the recurring themes of the paradox of human relationships, the importance of place (a recurring theme in most Southern writing), and the importance of mythological influences that help shape the theme. Her love of reading was reinforced by her mother, a school teacher, and her father inspired Welty’s love of all things mechanical. She later used technology for symbolism in her stories and also became an avid photographer, like her father.

From 1925 to 1927, Welty studied at the Mississippi State College for Women, then transferred to the University of Wisconsin to complete her studies in English literature. She studied advertising at Columbia University at the suggestion of her father. Because Welty graduated in the depths of the Great Depression, she struggled to find work in New York.

Soon after Welty returned to Jackson in 1931, her father died of leukemia. She took a job at a local radio station and wrote about Jackson society for the Memphis newspaper Commercial Appeal. In 1933, she began work for the Works Progress Administration. As a publicity agent, she collected stories, conducted interviews, and took photographs of daily life in Mississippi. She gained a wider view of Southern life and the human relationships that she drew from for her short stories and later left her job to become a full-time writer.

In 1936, she published "The Death of a Traveling Salesman" in the literary magazine Manuscript and soon published stories in several other notable publications, including The Sewanee Review and The New Yorker. She strengthened her place as an influential Southern writer when she published her first book of short stories, A Curtain of Green. Her new-found success won her a seat on the staff of The New York Times book review as well as a Guggenheim Fellowship, which enabled her to travel to France, England, Ireland, and Germany.

After Medgar Evers, president of the NAACP in Mississippi, was assassinated, she published a story, "Where Is the Voice Coming From?" in The New Yorker. She wrote it in the first person as the assassin.

In 1971, she published a collection of her photographs depicting the Great Depression titled One Time, One Place. She lectured at Harvard University and eventually adapted her talks as a three-part memoir titled One Writer's Beginnings. In 1973, she received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her novel The Optimist's Daughter. Welty was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom among numerous awards including the Order of the South. She was the first living author to have her works published by the Library of America. Her house in Jackson, Mississippi, has been designated as a National Historic Landmark and is open to the public as a house museum.

Photo by The New York Times