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Eudora Welty ( 1909 - 2001 )  Category ( Authors ) [suggest a correction]
 

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Eudora Welty is most famous for capturing elements of the American south, its culture, and folkways; then, distilling it into stories and novels that have enchanted both those familiar and new to the world she inhabited.

Welty was born in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1909. Unlike many authors, Welty remained in the town where she was born, spending almost all of her life in homes where she grew up. She was the daughter of Christian and Chestina Welty, and had two brothers, Edward and Walter. From her father she inherited an appreciation for precision, complexity, and sophistication. He was fascinated with all types of machinery, and his daughter grew up to appreciate photography. Indeed, not only was she a photographer before she was a writer, her photographic work informed the visual, imageric aspects of her writing. As she stated, "Life doesn't hold still. Photography taught me that to be able to capture transience by being ready to click the shutter at the crucial moment was the greatest need I had."

She attended the University of Wisconsin; but, like many women of her generation, did not graduate. Certainly by most southerners, a degreed woman was somewhat less than desirable. However, her father encouraged her to enroll at Columbia University's Business School. She agreed, but left when her father died in 1931. One year of business was more than enough for her artistic, creative mind. She returned home and took a job as a publicity agent for the Depression-era agency, Works Progress Administration. During this period she put her photographer's skills to good use, capturing the mood and spirit of the times. It was during this time that she wrote and published her first short story, "Death of a Traveling Salesman." Her story captured the attention of author Katherine Anne Porter, who took Welty under her wing, serving as friend and mentor. Welty's experience photographing images of the Great Depression carried over into her writing, and a number of her works were based upon her time working and traveling across Mississippi for the WPA.

Her book, The Robber Bridegroom, published in 1946, also deals with the rougher edges of southern life, including characters such as a highwayman who kidnaps a planter's daughter. Despite her clear interest in the grittier side of Southern culture, Welty developed a reputation -- indeed, some suspect it was a self-fashioned persona -- of a genteel, very polite southern lady who would never think of; let alone engage in, the sorts of activities explored by the characters in her novels and stories. Yet, such characters and story lines were the centerpiece of her work. Some critics suggest her childhood interest in Grimm's Fairy Tales may have encouraged her to use similar themes in her books. Her novel, The Optimist's Daughter, won the Pulitizer Prize for Fiction in 1973. She was the 1992 recipient of the Rea Award for the Short Story, in honor of her lifetime achievements in literature.

Welty never married, and when questioned as to why not, she typically and enigmatically responded, "It just never came up." Her ultra polite and genteel persona followed her beyond the grave and into apocrypha. At her 2001 funeral, her agent claimed that Welty's last words were to a doctor, who leaned in close to ask, "Eudora, is there anything I can do for you?" Her response, supposedly, was "No, but thank you so much for inviting me to the party."


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