The following interview aired on the radio program Southwind in 1985 after Welty read at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, GA. Southwind was produced at WABE, Atlanta.
I’m just writing stories because I love to write and I’m interested in people. The ones I happen to know live in Mississippi but I’m not—the reason I react to this is sometimes Mississippians write and say, “well, thank you for writing all your books on behalf of Mississippi.” Well, that isn’t—you know, I can’t and don’t claim to such a thing. I’m just writing about human beings and I hope it’s the same everywhere. Of course I try to make mine true Mississippians and honest portraits, but I would do that without living here, anywhere.
Eudora Welty still lives in the modest frame home built by her parents in Jackson, Mississippi. Her family roots are in Ohio and West Virginia but since she began writing fiction nearly fifty years ago, she has been draped with the mantle of the South’s premiere storyteller. [Recently], a six hundred and twenty-two page anthology of her … short stories was published, along with One Writer’s Beginnings, her description of growing up in Jackson, Mississippi, and finding her voice as a writer. In 1973 her novel, The Optimist’s Daughter, won the Pulitzer Prize. Welty’s father was a successful insurance executive and camera buff who taught Eudora photography, a skill that was to come in handy when she graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1929. During the 1930s, she worked as a documentary photographer for Roy Stryker’s Works Project Administration team that captured on film the human toll taken by the collapse of agriculture in the South and the Great Depression.2 Welty’s fiction follows the rules of camera work—just focus on the scene and keep your shadow out of the picture.
Some people say that they can notice certain things in my fiction that are almost like photographs, but I don’t write that way. I mean, I write from inside. I notice what I think they say are coincidences, that the same [End Page 49] thing would attract me to photograph it and then it would attract me to use it in a story. But both times it would be direct. That is, it wouldn’t go from photograph to the story or from the story to photograph. It’s just a way of looking at things. I think that’s all it could be. And it is strange, how similar some things are, some figures of speech even, and I know it’s because the image of the thing itself stamps itself on my mind, and I referred to that. But not through …, I don’t write from any kind of pictures or anything but from my life and memory and what I see.
[Lewis broadcast portions of Welty reading the opening paragraphs of “A Worn Path” the previous evening at Agnes Scott College to demonstrate her point.]
I bought myself a Rolleiflex camera at one point, and I believe I was then using a Rolleiflex and taking pictures of Pearl River around in there. When I once saw—I didn’t ever take a picture of this old woman but I saw—in fact I was sitting out with a painter. She was painting something and I was writing something. Way off in the distance, not close enough to see her face, I saw an old woman slowly crossing a field, and I could tell that she was intent, that she was going on an errand. You know, she was undeviating. It was that that made me think of the character in this story, of an old woman bent on an errand, and I got the distinct impression that it was for somebody else. You know, she wasn’t just going on an errand to buy something. I mean, she was bent on something. So the story sort of came full grown into...