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Listening for Stories – Eudora Welty

Jan 9, 2014

Eudora Welty“Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them. I suppose it’s an early form of participation in what goes on. Listening children know stories are there. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole.”
― Eudora Welty
One Writer's Beginnings

“It had been startling and disappointing to me to find out that story books had been written by people, that books were not natural wonders, coming up of themselves like grass. Yet regardless of where they come from, I cannot remember a time when I was not in love with them – with the books themselves, cover and binding and the paper they were printed on, with their smell and their weight and with their possession in my arms, captured and carried off to myself. Still illiterate, I was ready for them, committed to all the reading I could give them ...”
― Eudora Welty, One Writer's Beginnings

Eudora Welty was born in Jackson, Mississippi in 1909, and lived most of her life in the same house. She was a prolific writer – publishing stories, novels, essays, poems, drawings and photographs since her childhood. She was best known for vivid depictions of Southern American characters, honing in on subtle themes with humor and sensitivity. She wrote a good deal about the importance of “place” and its role in story telling. She wrote about black people as well as white, and even earned praise from black writer, Toni Morrison, who said that Ms. Welty wrote “about black people in a way that few white men have ever been able to write. It’s not patronizing, not romanticizing — it’s the way they should be written about.”

Eudora Welty speaks about loving books as living beings, as friends. She was excited about them the way we might be excited about places we’ve visited and people we’ve known. In today’s super-gadget-oriented world, there are kindles and other computer tools that separate people from the physicality of books. Written stories may not reach readers today in the way that they did in the past – the way it was possible to love their tactile presence, their “cover and binding and the paper they were printed on, with their smell and their weight.” At the same time, Eudora Welty’s father was much enamored with machines and mechanical devices, and she inherited that passion from him – so it may be that she would have been excited by these computerized inventions.

In any case, it is wonderful to visit her stories, because she represents a time and place that no longer exists. Ironically, she published a book of depression era photographs called, One Time, One Place. She was the recipient of numerous literary awards, and received the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1972, for her novel, The Optimist's Daughter.

She passed away of natural causes in 2001, and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Jackson, MS. On her headstone is a quote from The Optimist's Daughter:

“For her life, any life, she had to believe, was nothing but the continuity of its love.”

Posted by Kimmy Sophia Brown

Image(s) from Wikimedia Commons
Photo by Billy Hathorn, of the painting by Midred Nungester Wolfe,
from the National Portrait Gallery ~ Washington, DC

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