One Writer's Beginnings the First Biography of Eudora Welty, despite Her Wishes

By Rubin, Merle | The Christian Science Monitor, January 21, 1999 | Go to article overview

One Writer's Beginnings the First Biography of Eudora Welty, despite Her Wishes


Rubin, Merle, The Christian Science Monitor


EUDORA WELTY: A WRITER'S LIFE By Ann Waldron Doubleday 415 pp., $25.95

STORIES, ESSAY'S & MEMOIR By Eudora Welty Library of America 980 pp., $35

COMPLETE NOVELS By Eudora Welty Library of America 1,014 pp., $35 It says something of the esteem in which she is held that Eudora Welty should be the first living author showcased in the distinguished Library of America series. Her works appear in two volumes: "Complete Novels" and "Stories, Essays and Memoir," both edited by Richard Ford and Michael Kreyling. The woman herself seems to be as widely admired as her writing. Having had the pleasure of talking with her for only a few moments at a large party, I can attest to her immense charm: This gaunt, stooped, ungainly lady radiates a fresh, spontaneous enthusiasm that practically glows in the dark. Ann Waldron, who took it upon herself to write Welty's biography against Welty's wishes, begins by explaining her own motives. It is Waldron's view that as a "towering literary figure," Welty not only merits, but practically requires, a biography. Welty herself, however, believes a writer is under no obligation to discuss her personal life. Not only did she refuse (graciously and politely, of course) to cooperate, but she also asked her many friends and colleagues to follow suit. And, indeed, as Waldron discovered, Welty inspires such affection and loyalty in those who have known her, it was hard for this biographer to do her research. Despite these formidable hurdles, Waldron has managed to put together a reasonably colorful and readable account of Welty's life and work, based largely on letters and archival papers, published essays and articles, and interviews with some people who agreed to cooperate. Her biography succeeds in conveying a great deal of Welty's personal charm and ebullience. A letter Welty wrote as a young woman offering her services to The New Yorker captures her playful spirit. In it, she describes herself as hailing "from Mississippi, the nation's most backward state." Although she imagines they would be "more interested in even a sleight-o'hand trick" than in yet another job applicant, "as usual you can't have the thing you want most." She offers to review books, movies, art. She even coined a word to characterize Matisse: "concubineapple." Sadly, the magazine did not take her on. Indeed, Welty initially had a very hard time finding places that would publish her stories. Her pieces were sometimes deemed too long and too opaque for popular tastes. …

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