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Welty, Eudora - Introduction

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Eudora Welty 1909–-2001

American novelist, short story writer, photographer, and essayist. See also, "A Worn Path" Criticism.


Welty is recognized as an important contemporary American author of short fiction. Although the majority of her stories are set in the American South and reflect the region's language and culture, Welty's treatment of universal themes and her wide-ranging artistic influences clearly transcend regional boundaries. Welty is frequently linked with modernist authors such as James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, and some of her works, including the stories in The Golden Apples (1949), are similar in their creation of complex fictional worlds that are only made comprehensible through a network of symbols and allusions, drawn primarily from classical mythology. Some features of Welty's best-known stories are an authentic replication of southern dialect, as in the story “Why I Live at the P.O.” from Welty's A Curtain of Green (1941), a skillful manipulation of realistic detail, and the application of elements of fantasy to create vivid character portraits.

Biographical Information

Born in Jackson, Mississippi, at a time when the city had not yet lost its rural atmosphere, Welty grew up in the bucolic South she so often evoked in her stories. She attended the Mississippi State College for Women and the University of Wisconsin, where she majored in English literature; Welty also studied advertising at Columbia University. However, graduating at the height of the Depression, she was unable to find work and returned to Jackson in 1931. There Welty worked as a part-time journalist and copywriter, and as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) publicity agent. Welty's WPA job took her on assignments reporting and interviewing throughout Mississippi, during which she took hundreds of photographs of ordinary citizens. It was the profundity of these experiences that first inspired Welty to seriously write short stories. In June 1936 her story “Death of a Traveling Salesman” was accepted for publication in the Detroit journal Manuscript and within two years her work appeared in such prestigious publications as the Atlantic and the Southern Review. Critical response to Welty's first collection of stories, A Curtain of Green, was mostly favorable, with many commentators predicting that a first performance so impressive would no doubt lead to even greater achievements. Yet when The Wide Net, and Other Stories (1943) was published two years later, several critics, most notably Diana Trilling, deplored Welty's marked shift away from the colorful realism of her earlier stories toward a more impressionistic style, objecting in particular to her increased use of symbol and metaphor to convey theme. Other critics responded positively, including Robert Penn Warren, who wrote that in Welty's work, “the items of fiction (scene, action, character, etc.) are presented not as document but as comment, not as a report but as a thing made, not as history but as idea.” As Welty continued to refine her vision, her fictional techniques gained wider acceptance. Indeed, her most complex and highly symbolic collection of stories, The Golden Apples, won much acclaim and Welty received a number of prizes and awards throughout the following decade, including the William Dean Howells Medal of the Academy of Arts and Letters for her novella The Ponder Heart (1954). Occupied primarily with teaching, traveling, and lecturing between 1955 and 1970, Welty produced little fiction. Then, in the early 1970s, she published two novels, Losing Battles (1970), which received mixed reviews, and the more critically successful novelette The Optimist's Daughter (1972), which won a Pulitzer Prize. While Welty did not publish any new volumes of short stories after The Bride of the Innisfallen in 1955, the release of The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty in 1980 renewed interest in her short fiction and brought critical praise. In addition, the 1984 publication of Welty's One Writer's Beginnings, an autobiographical chronicle of her artistic development, further illuminated her oeuvre and inspired commentators to reinterpret many of her past stories. Welty died in her birthplace, Jackson, Mississippi, on July 23, 2001. Author Richard Ford, a fellow southerner and past neighbor of Welty's, has been named literary executor of her estate and will decide whether to issue any new work by Welty who ceased publishing in 1973, but continued to write until her death.

Major Works

In his seminal 1944 essay on The Wide Net, and Other Stories, Robert Penn Warren located the essence of Welty's fictive technique in a phrase from her story “First Love”: “Whatever happened, it happened in extraordinary times, in a season of dreams.” It is, states Warren, “as though the author cannot be quite sure what did happen, cannot quite undertake to resolve the meaning of the recorded event.” This tentative approach to narrative exegesis suggests Welty's primary goal in creating fiction, which was not to simply relate a series of events, but to convey a strong sense of her character's experience in a specific moment in time, always acknowledging the ambiguous nature of reality. In order to do so, Welty selected those details that can best vivify the tale, frequently using metaphors and similes to communicate sensory impressions, while revealing only those incidents that enter her characters' inwardness. The resulting stories are highly impressionistic. Welty typically used traditional symbols and mythical allusions in her work, and in the opinion of many it is through linking the particular with the general and the mundane with the metaphysical that she attained her transcendent vision of being. Welty's stories display a marked diversity in content, form, and mood. Many of her stories are facile and humorous, while others employ the tragic and the grotesque. Her jocular stories frequently rely on the comic possibilities of language, as in both “Why I Live at the P.O.” and The Ponder Heart, which both exploit the levity in the speech pattern and colorful idiom of their southern narrators. In addition, Welty also used irony to comic effect and many critics consider this aspect of her work to be one of its chief strengths. Opinions are divided, however, on the effectiveness of Welty's use of the fantastic. While Trilling and others find inclusion of such elements as the carnival exhibits in “Petrified Man,” from A Curtain of Green, exploitative and superfluous, Eunice Glenn maintains that in the story Welty created “scenes of horror” in order to “make everyday life appear as it often does, without the use a magnifying glass, to the person with extraordinary acuteness of feeling.”

Critical Reception

Critics of Welty's work agree that the same literary techniques that produced her finest stories have also been the cause of her most outstanding failures, noting that she is at her best when objective observation and subjective revelation are kept in balance, and that where the former is neglected, she is ineffective. Commentators remark further, however, that such instances are comparatively rare in Welty's work. Many contemporary critics consider Welty's skillful use of language her single greatest achievement, citing in particular the poetic richness of her narratives and her acute sensitivity to the subtleties and peculiarities of human speech. The majority of reviewers concur with Glenn's assertion that “it is her profound search of human consciousness and her illumination of the underlying causes of the compulsions and fears of modern man that would seem to comprise the principal value of Welty's work.”Eudora Welty

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Please help improve this article by expanding it. Further information might be found on the talk page. (January 2009)

Eudora Welty

Born Eudora Alice Welty

April 13, 1909

Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Died July 23, 2001 (aged 92)

Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Occupation Author, photographer

Notable award(s) Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

1973 The Optimist's Daughter

Literature portal

Eudora Alice Welty (April 13, 1909 – July 23, 2001) was an award-winning American author who wrote short stories and novels about the American South. Her book, The Optimist's Daughter, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1973 and Welty was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, among numerous awards. She was the first living author to have her works published by the Library of America. Her house in Jackson, Mississippi, is a National Historic Landmark and open to the public as a museum.Contents [hide]

1 Photography

2 Writing career

3 Honors

4 Short story collections

5 Novels

6 Literary criticism and non-fiction

7 Commemoration

8 See also

9 References

10 Additional reading

11 External links

During the 1930s, Welty worked as a publicity agent for the Works Progress Administration, a job that sent her around Mississippi. On her own time, she took some memorable photographs during the Great Depression of people from all economic and social classes. Collections of her photographs were published as One Time, One Place (1971) and Photographs (1989). Her photography was the basis for several of her short stories, including "Why I Live at PO", which was inspired by a woman she photographed ironing in the back of a small post office.


Writing career

Welty was focused on her writing but continued to take photographs until the 1950s.[1] Her first short story, "Death of a Traveling Salesman", appeared in 1936. Her work attracted the attention of author Katherine Anne Porter. Porter became a mentor to Welty and wrote the foreword to Welty's first collection of short stories, A Curtain of Green, in 1941. The book immediately established Welty as one of American literature's leading lights and featured the stories "Why I Live at the P.O.", "Petrified Man", and "A Worn Path".

Her novel, The Optimist's Daughter, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1973. In 1992, Welty was awarded the Rea Award for the Short Story for her lifetime contributions to the American short story.

Welty was a charter member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, founded in 1987. She also taught creative writing at colleges and in workshops. She lived near Jackson's Belhaven College and was a common sight among the people of her hometown.



1954 - William Dean Howells medal for fiction, The Ponder Heart[2]

1973 - Pulitzer Prize, The Optimist's Daughter

1980 - Presidential Medal of Freedom[3]

1983 - Invited by Harvard University to give the first annual Massey Lectures in the History of American Civilization[4]

1986 - National Medal of Arts.

1991 - National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters[5]

1991 - Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award[5][6]

1992 - Rea Award for the Short Story[7]

1993 - Charles Frankel Prize, National Endowment for the Humanities[7]

1993 - PEN/Malamud Award for the Short Story[7]

1993 - Distinguished Alumni Award, American Association of State Colleges and Universities[7]

1996 - French Légion d’Honneur[8]

1998 - First living author to have her works published in the prestigious Library of America series.[4]


Short story collections

"Death of a Traveling Salesman" (separate short story), 1936

"A Worn Path" (separate short story), 1940

A Curtain of Green, 1941

The Wide Net and Other Stories, 1943

Music from Spain, 1948

The Golden Apples, 1949

Selected Stories, 1954

The Bride of the Innisfallen and Other Stories, 1955

Thirteen Stories, 1965

The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty, 1982

Moon Lake and Other Stories, 1980

Morgana: Two Stories from The Golden Apples, 1988



The Robber Bridegroom (novella), 1942

Delta Wedding, 1946

The Ponder Heart, 1954

The Shoe Bird (juvenile), 1964

Losing Battles, 1970

The Optimist's Daughter, 1972


Literary criticism and non-fiction

Three Papers on Fiction (criticism), 1962

The Eye of the Story (selected essays and reviews), 1978

One Writer's Beginnings (autobiography), 1983

The Norton Book of Friendship (editor, with Roland A. Sharp), 1991

3 Minutes or Less (selected essay), 2001



Eudora, the name given to the Internet email program developed by Steve Dorner in 1990, was inspired by Welty's story "Why I Live at the P.O."[9]

The state of Mississippi established a "Eudora Welty Day."

Each October, Mississippi University for Women hosts the Eudora Welty Writers' Symposium to promote and celebrate the work of contemporary Southern writers.[10]

The Optimist's Daughter is a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winning 1972 short novel by Eudora Welty. It concerns a woman named Laurel, who travels to New Orleans to take care of her father, Judge McKelva, after he has surgery for a detached retina. He fails to recover from the surgery, though, surrenders to his age, and dies slowly as Laurel reads to him from Dickens. Her father's second wife Fay, who is younger than Laurel, is a shrewish outsider from Texas. Her shrill response to the Judge's illness appears to accelerate his demise. Laurel and Fay are thrown together when they return the Judge to his home town of Mount Salus, Mississippi, where he will be buried. There, Laurel is immersed in the enveloping good neighborliness of the friends and family she knew before marrying and moving away to Chicago. Fay, though, has always been unwelcome and takes off for a long weekend, leaving Laurel in the big house full of memories. Laurel encounters her mother's memory, her father's life after he lost his first wife, and the complex emotions surrounding her loss and the wave of memories in which she swims. She comes to a place of understanding that Fay can never share, and leaves small town Mississippi with the memories she can carry with her.[1]Contents [hide]

1 The Optimist's Daughter Summary

2 Main characters

2.1 Laurel Hand

2.2 Fay McKelva

2.3 Judge (Clint) McKelva

2.4 Becky McKelva

3 Web sources


The Optimist's Daughter Summary

The book begins with the main character Laurel Hand who travels to New Orleans from her home in Chicago to assist her aging father as a family friend operates on his eye. Laurel’s father (Judge Clint McKelva) remains in the hospital for recovery for several weeks. During this time, Laurel begins to get to know her outsider stepmother (Fay McKelva) better, as she rarely visited her father since the two were married. Fay begins to show her true colors as the Judge’s condition worsens. To the distress of all who knew him, the Judge dies after his wife throws a violently emotional fit in the hospital.

The two women travel back to the Judge’s home in Mount Salus Mississippi for the funeral and are received by close friends of the family. Here, Laurel finds love and friendship in a community which she left after childhood. Ironically, the warmth of the town clashes with Fay’s dissenting and antagonistic personality. The woman from Texas, who claimed to have no family other than the Judge, is soon confronted by her past as her mother, siblings, and other members of her family show up to her house to attend the funeral. Though Laurel confronts Fay as to the reason for which she lied, she cannot help but feel anything except pity for the lonely, sullen woman. Directly after her husband’s funeral, Fay leaves to go back home to Madrid, Texas with her family.

After her distraught and immature stepmother leaves, Laurel finally has time to herself in the house she grew up in with the friends and neighbors she knew since childhood. During the few days she remains, Laurel digs through the past as she goes through her house remembering her deceased parents and the life she had before she left Mount Salus. She rediscovers the life of friendship and love that she left behind so many years ago, along with heartache.

Her visit to her hometown and the memories of her parents open up a new insight on life for Laurel. She leaves Mount Salus with a new understanding of life and the factors which influence it the most—friends and family. But most of all, she gains a new understanding and respect for herself.


Main characters


Laurel Hand

Laurel is Judge McKelva’s daughter, who is an only child. She is a widow having once been married to a man named Phil Hand. After his death, Laurel returned to her parents’ home because of her mother’s sickness, before returning to Chicago, only to be brought back by her father’s condition which is where the events in the novel begin. In the story Laurel and Fay have many arguments because of Fay’s rude personality. After her father’s death, the funeral, and Fay’s unexpected vacation, Laurel returns to her father’s home. There she reminisces about past memories, including those of her parents, and her fear of birds, before she comes to her epiphany about life.


Fay McKelva

Fay is Judge McKelva’s second wife, therefore Laurel’s stepmother. Judge McKelva met her at the Southern Bar Association at the old Gulf Coast hotel where Fay had a part time job at the time. However, Fay is also younger than Laurel. Fay’s personality is not pleasant and causes everyone in the story to see her as obnoxious, self-centered, and rude. This causes the other characters in the novel to pity her. In the course of the story we see that Fay is also dishonest, lying about having a family—she had said that they were dead—but when they come for Clint’s funeral, they clearly are not. After the funeral Fay makes a snap decision to return to Texas with her family for a short time before returning at the end of the novel.


Judge (Clint) McKelva

Clint McKelva is Laurel’s father, who is an optimist. Judge McKelva is being treated for an eye illness he has, he dies after eye surgery and other complications much to the distress of everyone who had known him. In the book we learn more about him after he dies, including of his already deceased first wife, Becky, as well as the occupation he held as a judge.


Becky McKelva

Is Laurel’s mother and Clint’s first wife. She died before the events in the story occurred, but through the memories of Laurel, she plays a large role at the end of the story.


Web sources

^ New York TimesAwards

Preceded by

Angle of Repose

by Wallace Stegner Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

1973 Succeeded by

1974:no award given

1975:The Killer Angels

by Michael Shaara

Categories: Pulitzer Prize for Fiction | 1972 novels | Novellas | American novels | Novels by Eudora

Eudora Welty

Born in Jackson, Mississippi in 1909.

(At the moment, I give the titles, year of publication, publisher, ISBN where I have it, and the blurb that appears on the edition that I have. I've also included Links to other relevant sites.)

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