- Meanwhile There Are Letters:Interview with Suzanne Marrs
Pearl McHaney: Can you tell us about the origin and the process of this collaborative project with Tom Nolan, editing Meanwhile There Are Letters: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and Ross Macdonald?
Suzanne Marrs: Tom Nolan, the biographer of Ross Macdonald, and I met at the Virginia Festival of Books in 2006, and he suggested that we work on a Welty/Macdonald book of letters—he had been so impressed by the letters I quoted in my Welty biography. I thought a book of letters was a grand idea, but it took us many a year to get it underway.
Tom and I worked very smoothly together via email. He transcribed all the letters from Kenneth Millar (aka Ross Macdonald) to Eudora, and I transcribed all of Eudora’s letters to Ken. We worked together on the introduction and interstitial material, each of us writing parts and each of us helping to revise the other’s prose. In fact, I think I’ll ask him to look over my answers to this interview and help me revise one more time.
Can you describe the process of writing the commentaries introducing the chapters? Did you and Nolan each write and then compare, combine, select, or did you divvy up the commentary?
We divided the chapter introductions between us, but we suggested revisions to each other, primarily involving style or adding material.
Did you and Nolan always agree? And if not, how were the different approaches or considerations reconciled?
We were remarkably in agreement. Tom’s agent at one point asked how things were going, and he said things were great. She was stunned and told him how rare this was. [End Page 133]
What similarities or dissimilarities did this project have with What There Is to Say We Have Said, the correspondence of Welty and William Maxwell?
Our publisher thought that What There Is to Say provided a good model for us, and we used the same organizational format. Of course, the letters between Eudora and Ken are quite different than those between Eudora and Bill Maxwell, and Meanwhile has a stronger narrative thread, not because of us but because of the frequency and intensity of the letters themselves.
Or similarities with Welty and Ron Sharp for the Norton Book of Friendship?
We didn’t make a conscious effort to do this, but I think we worked as agreeably together as Ron and Eudora had.
What other formats or frameworks did you and Nolan consider? Perhaps a narrative such as Michael Kreyling created in Eudora Welty and Diarmuid Russell: Author and Agent? Other titles that you may have considered?
My agents suggested that we write more interstitial text than we ultimately did—we wanted to include all the letters, and considerations of length precluded more extensive commentary from us.
Or Julia Eichelberger’s Tell about Night Flowers: Eudora Welty’s Gardening Letters 1940-1949?
No, though I admire that book.
How (if it was necessary) did you work through the sense of being sort of reverse-doppelgangers for Welty and Millar, you speaking for Welty and Nolan for Millar, imagining what might have been or what might have been written?
This was never an issue, though Tom relied on me for detailed information about Eudora’s life, and I relied on him for detailed information [End Page 134] about Ken’s. It was a pleasure to know that I was working with someone who knew Ken’s life and work far better than did I. And I think Tom felt the same way about working with me. When Tom came to Jackson for the Mississippi Book Festival after the book was published (our second in-person meeting), we did several readings with Tom reading Ken’s letters and me reading Eudora’s—I guess there was a bit of role-playing there, but thankfully we knew we were role-playing. I would dearly love for Meryl Streep and Sam Shepard to do this role-playing in the future.
What would you say was most rewarding...