EUDORA WELTY was born on April 13, 1909, in Jackson, Mississippi, where she lives to this day, having left for only a few years (to get her B.A. from the University of Wisconsin in 1929 and then to take advertising courses at Columbia University). Her first and last job before becoming a a self-supporting author was as a publicity agent for the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Welty's first collection of short stories, A Curtain of Green ( 1941), reflects some of what would become enduring themes in her fiction: an emphasis on people who are "outsiders" either physically or mentally, a concern with the South and its traditions, and an awareness of the complex emotional currents than run through all families. These short stories led many readers and reviewers to compare Welty with Faulkner, just as later they would connect her with O'Connor, on the basis of each writer's use of the grotesque, the Gothic, and dark humor. Ironically, Welty rejects such labels, insisting that such categories are overly simplified and limiting.
Much of Welty's subsequent fiction, both short stories and novels, reflects her interest in classical mythology. Her 1942 novella, The Robber Bridegroom, is a light piece that experiments with blending fairy tales, legends, and history. She continued with this theme in a later collection of stories, The Golden Apples ( 1949). The family takes center stage in many of Welty's novels, particularly Delta Wedding ( 1946), one of her best-known novels. This novel, which depicts the events preceding a wedding in a large southern family, illustrates Welty's concern with the oral tradition, particularly the way family stories are passed on. Delta Wedding also reveals the precision with which Welty renders southern dialects, and her unerring eye for detail. This same precision and eye for detail can be seen visually in the book of photographs she published in 1989, the culmination of a life-long passion for photography.
After publishing a novella, The Ponder Heart, in 1954, and a collection of stories in 1955, Welty published almost nothing for the next fifteen years. Her time was, for the most part, occupied with caring for her sick mother, who died in 1966 after a long illness. Her 1972 novel, The Optimist's Daughter, which won the Pulitzer Prize, is her most autobiographical work. She is, however, an intensely private person, who has not yet authorized a biography or released her personal papers, claiming that she wants to be judged on her work alone.