If you’re a regular reader of this blog and of my posts in particular, you may remember that I was born in Jackson, Mississippi and lived here through my mid-twenties. The South and its cultural heritage, which proves to be dark or delightful depending on what particular circumstance you are examining, is deeply embedded in my psyche, and I often seek out Southern writers, specifically Mississippi authors, because I love the voice, the examination of hard truths, the setting as character. Eudora Welty is my favorite author, and while I’ve been down here for the past two weeks, I was finally able to immerse myself more into her life, not only as a writer but as a person.
Welty home (1925-2001), 1119 Pinehurst Street, Jackson, MS
I started chasing her down by going on a tour of the Eudora Welty house, which was where she lived from 1925 (age 16) through her death in 2001. This is where she created the brilliant stories and novels that have won her numerous accolades—a slew of honorary degrees, the National Medal of Arts, National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, the Pulitzer.
My tour guide at her house told me that they found her Pulitzer in her closet, and the only award she kept out on her shelf was the 1985 Raven Mystery Award that she won for being the reader of the year. The fact that she was a ravenous reader didn’t surprise me—stacks of books are on nearly every surface of the house—but I loved that she was interested in a variety of types of works, including Irish authors, fellow Southerners, and indeed a number of mystery writers. Perhaps what was so interesting about this, too, was the supposed romantic link she had with Ross Macdonald, a mystery writer with whom she exchanged letters and even offered reviews for some of his novels. Apparently they dedicated novels to each other, and as I had grown up not ever hearing of her personal life, I found this information to make her even larger in my imagination. That, and I found out she likes bourbon, which I imagine she never let herself get too out of hand but still managed to tell incredibly humorous anecdotes with any of her numerous friends.
My tour guide also showed me a bedroom on the top floor that overlooks a magnificent garden started by her mother and said that Welty would climb on top of this flat patch of roof right outside of the window to take pictures of the lawn to see what else should be planted or rearranged. I love thinking of that, this powerhouse of a writer shimmying through a window to take a picture of her next steps.
All of these elements came together to make her more human to me, not just a brilliant author but a person who is both graceful and bold, and thus inspired, I spent a small fortune at Jackson’s local bookstore Lemuria just so I could learn more about her. (Incidentally, should you ever find yourself in Jackson, consider supporting the Eudora Welty house and Lemuria; you won’t be disappointed, and the workers at the Welty house are extraordinarily knowledgeable and can take credit for much of the information in this post.)
To broaden this out for those who may not be as focused on Ms. Welty as I am, consider finding ways to immerse yourself more fully in the lives of the authors you do admire, beyond the writing itself. By researching, or visiting sites if possible, you can understand how the writing comes into being and how their lives feed into their work. Use this and consider your own beginnings and how this could influence your approach to writing. Below are some of my pictures from this trip, and in two weeks I’ll offer up my thoughts on another Mississippian, Willie Morris.
Eudora Welty’s Childhood home, familiar to those who have read ONE WRITER’S BEGINNINGS
Her elementary school directly across the street
The Lamar Life building in downtown Jackson, which was constructed under the care of Eudora Welty’s father
Formerly the Jitney Jungle, where Welty did her grocery shopping and took the time to listen to those around her, and where many Jacksonians spotted her in the middle of her “eavesdropping”
A local theatre in Jackson that adapted Welty’s work. Eudora was a large supporter of New Stage, and this is where I saw her when I was 17, but didn’t introduce myself (which I still regret).
Her grave marker in Greenwood Cemetery.