Yesterday marked the 17th anniversary of the death of famed Mississippi author Eudora Welty. Before achieving fame as an author, Welty (1909-2001) made a name for herself in the 1930s as a photographer for the Works Progress Administration. Her experiences of traveling around the state, taking pictures of everyday life in Mississippi, went on to inspire a number of her stories about life in the South.
Welty, who published six novels and ten collections of short stories over the course of her career, won numerous awards over the decades, including a Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for her novel, The Optimist’s Daughter. As a high school student, I was required to read a little of Welty’s writing, but wasn’t particularly enthused about it. It wasn’t until many years later that I gained an appreciation for Welty’s talent as a writer.
The Arts Council of Clinton was sponsoring a one-woman dramatic adaptation of Welty’s 1941 short story, Why I Live at the P.O. This comedic piece, which was quite unlike anything of hers I’d seen in high school, tells the story of a young woman who gets so exasperated living at home with her eccentric, dysfunctional family that she decides to move in to the local post office, where she works. The characterization is superb, and even the characters’ names add humor to the story. For example, the narrator’s sister is named Stella-Rondo, and her grandfather goes by the grandiose title, “Papa Daddy”. Welty said that the idea for the story originated from a photograph she took during the 1930s of a young woman ironing clothes in a back room of a post office.
Welty has had her fiction adapted into stage and film productions. In 1956, Welty’s 1954 novel, The Ponder Heart, was made into a Broadway production, starring Una Merkel. In 2001, PBS adapted The Ponder Heart into a television film, which aired on the network’s Masterpiece series.
Mississippians who want to get better acquainted with the life and works of Eudora Welty have a wealth of information at their fingertips, thanks to the Eudora Welty House (1119 Pinehurst Street, across from Belhaven University in Jackson), which has been open to the public as a museum since 2006.
Welty lived at the house for 80 years, and did all of her writing on a typewriter in an upstairs bedroom. The house has been preserved almost exactly as Welty herself left it at the time of her death, with the exception that air conditioning has been installed. In a 2006 New York Times piece, publicizing the opening of the Welty House, Roger Mudd reported, “During her lifetime she did not allow it, because she insisted on smelling and hearing whatever floated through her open windows.”
Those who are interested in learning more about Welty, or touring her home, can find out more information at https://eudorawelty.org/the-house/.