Sunday, August 28, 2016

Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty

Eudora Welty’s mother, Chestina Andrews Welty believed that “any room in our house, at any time in the day, was there to read in, or to be read to”.  This is logic that I can wholeheartedly support.  And what made me like Chestina even more - there is a story that she ran back into a burning house to save a set of Dickens. Seriously, with maternal influence like that, how could Eudora have been anything but an avid reader and ultimately a great writer?

For all I know, writing comes out of a superior devotion to reading.
Eudora Welty, On Writing

Born into a family that was close and loving, Eudora grew up in a fertile ground of camaraderie and humor, garnering a love for literature and language from her mother and an interest in gadgets and machines from her father.

She may have had a somewhat sheltered life as a young woman but graduated from high school with flying colors and attended Mississippi State College for Women, the University of Wisconsin where she attained a bachelors degree and Columbia University School of Business.

I am a writer who came of a sheltered life. A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within. 
Eudora Welty, On Writing

Hitting the job market at the height of the Great Depression ultimately sent Eudora back to Mississippi from New York City to find work.  It is after this period that her great versatility became apparent.  Eudora worked at WJDX radio station in Jackson while also writing about Jackson society for the Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis. She was employed at the Works Progress Administration and later for several months as a copy editor and staff reviewer for the New York Times Book Review.

It was at the WPA that Eudora collected stories and photos as a publicity agent.  She conducted interviews and took photographs of everyday Mississippi life.  The insights that were gained through these interactions with people around her provided a wealth of experiences that ultimately found their way into her writing and in her profound body of photographs.

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

In 1936 Eudora Welty’s short story,  “The Death Of A Traveling Salesman” was published in the literary magazine, Manuscript.  It became the first published work and was followed by others in such notable publications as The New Yorker.  She eventually published over forty short stories, five novels, three works of nonfiction and one children’s book.  She won a Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for The Optimist’s Daughter, a Presidential Medal of Freedom for The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty, a National Medal of the Arts and the French Legion of Honor.

Originally envisioned as a story called “The Delta Cousin," Delta Wedding became Eudora Welty’s second published novel in 1946. Set in the year 1923, it recounts the experiences of the Mississippi Delta Fairchild family.  Initial reviews were varied but this work has stood the test of time in its character studies and interplay of family life.  

We are the breakers of our own hearts.
Eudora Welty, The Eye of the Story

Southern writers are often described in relation to a sense of place in their works.  Southern literature has a characteristic ear for Southern speech and storytelling, a pervading presence of family and community and the varied roles within that community.   Eudora Welty shines in all of the strongest and deepest characteristics of Southern literature.

Southerners… love a good tale. They are born reciters, great memory retainers, diary keepers, letter exchangers, and letter savers, history tracers and debaters, and — outstaying all the rest — great talkers. Southern talk is on the narrative side, employing the verbatim conversation. For this, plenty of time is needed and taken for granted. It was still true not so very far back that children grew up listening — listening  through unhurried stretches of uninhibited reminiscence, and listening galvanized. They were naturally prone to be entertained from the first by life as they heard tell of it, and to fee free, encouraged, and then in no time compelled, to pass their pleasure on.
Eudora Welty, From Where I Live

Delta Wedding has strong echoes of experiences from Eudora’s own childhood and carries as a theme an element found quite often in Southern literature — the importance of the past and its effect on our current existence and the way our lives play out — on our mortality and the tenuous hold that we have on life…

Fiction shows us the past as well as the present moment in mortal light; it is an art served by the indelibility of our memory, and one empowered by a sharp and prophetic awareness of what is ephemeral. It is by the ephemeral that our feeling is so strongly aroused for what endures, or strives to endure.
Eudora Welty, On Writing

Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty is the fourth read in our new reading plan, A Southern Study. You have plenty of time to start reading to discuss over an Autumn Book Lunch to take place on Saturday, October 22nd, 2016. 

HOMEWORK - In honor of  Eudora - and if you live in the South - send a photo of something in your everyday Southern life and we’ll share.

People give pain, are callous and insensitive, empty and cruel...but place heals the hurt, soothes the outrage, fills the terrible vacuum that these human beings make.
Eudora Welty, The Eye of the Story