One of the most important “Southern” writers of the 20th century was born on April 13, 1909, in Jackson, Miss. Eudora Welty attended Mississippi University for Women and graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1929. After postgraduate studies at Columbia University in New York, she worked for newspapers and radio stations and was a publicity agent for the Work Progress Administration, the agency formed by President Franklin Roosevelt to provide work for people during the Great Depression in the 1930s. A collection of her photographs of Mississippi taken during that time was published in 1972 as One Time: One Place. For six months, during World War II, she was on the staff of the New York Times Book Review, writing reviews on battlefield reports. She used the pseudonym Michael Ravenna for her reviews because an editor had said that a Southern woman—no matter how talented a writer—was not an authority on the war.
Set usually in her native state, most of Welty’s short stories and novels are tales of eccentric and even grotesque characters, whom she depicts with charm and sympathetic humor. Welty’s “South,” unlike that of fellow Mississippian William Faulkner, is not populated with tragic figures. Her subtle re-creation of regional patterns of speech and thought is remarkable. Many of the stories that brought her fame first appeared in The Atlantic Monthly and The New Yorker magazines. In 1941, Welty published her first collection, A Curtain of Green and Other Stories, which contains “A Worn Path,” for which she received her second of eight O. Henry Awards for short-story writing; “Powerhouse”; and “Why I Live at the P.O.” The Golden Apples, a collection of interrelated stories set in the fictional town of Morgana, Miss., was published in 1949. An omnibus collection of the short stories was published in 1980.
She published The Robber Bridegroom, her first novel, in 1942, followed by Delta Wedding, in 1946. Her later novels include The Ponder Heart (1954), which received the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters medal for the most distinguished American fiction of 1950–55, and Losing Battles (1970). The Robber Bridegroom and The Ponder Heart were made into Broadway plays.
In 1972 Welty received the Gold Medal of Fiction given by the Institute of Arts and Letters, and a year later she won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her novel The Optimist’s Daughter (1972), a story of a woman’s return to her childhood home in Mississippi. She published a volume of essays, The Eye of the Story, in 1979. Welty’s last book, Country Churchyards, an album of photographs she took during the 1930s and ‘40s, was published in 2000.
She died on July 23, 2001, in her home city, where she lived for most of her life. In One Writer’s Beginnings (1984), her memoir based on lectures she gave at Harvard University in 1983, Welty wrote, “As you have seen, I am a writer who came of a sheltered life,” but, as she observed, “a sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within.”