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  • Eudora Welty Research Fellowship, Summer 2017
  • Sophia K. Leonard

My current research focuses on the exchanges between the US South and urban, cosmopolitan spaces in twentieth-century literary culture. One such place where I witness these exchanges is in modern American periodical culture, and specifically in The New Yorker magazine. Since its first issue in 1925, the popular middlebrow publication has cultivated an ethos of cosmopolitan sophistication across its pages, a tenor best captured in founding editor Harold Ross’s declaration that the New Yorker “will be the magazine which is not edited for the old lady in Dubuque” (Yagoda 39). Recent scholarship by Mary Corey and Sarah E. Gardner suggests that this cosmopolitan ethos in the magazine at times translated into a “critical, if not mocking,” appraisal of places and spaces deemed “provincial,” including the US South (Gardner 8). The heterogeneous nature of the material in the New Yorker, however, simultaneously created space for the publication of provocative short fiction by several southern writers—including Eudora Welty, Carson McCullers, Truman Capote, Peter Taylor, and Elizabeth Spencer—whose works and lives display a wide range of exchanges between the South and transatlantic cosmopolitan spaces in the twentieth century. In my research, I hope to better understand the ways that the material of widely circulated American periodicals such as the New Yorker participated in the construction and dissemination of ideas about the US South and southern literature in the twentieth century, and how southern cosmopolitan writers alternately engaged with or resisted these imagined representations at the same time.

As the 2017 recipient of the Eudora Welty Research Fellowship, I conducted archival research in pursuit of this inquiry in the Eudora Welty Collection at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) from June 12 through June 29, 2017. My research approaches this question of the South in the New Yorker through Eudora Welty’s short fiction, for her literary output for the magazine during the middle years of the twentieth century exhibits significant geographical breadth, inspired both by her experiences as a southerner and her international travels at midcentury. While some of Welty’s most well-regarded works found their first publication in the New Yorker, including “Where Is the Voice Coming From?” and The Optimist’s Daughter, the contours of the author’s relationship to [End Page 179] the magazine were especially varied at midcentury. In 1948, Welty publicly charged the editors of the New Yorker with a desire to “drown” Mississippi and the South on the pages of their magazine. “How well Illinois or South Dakota or Vermont has fared in the New Yorker book-review column lately, I haven’t noticed,” begins the author in the published letter to the editors of the New Yorker, “but Mississippi was pushed under three times in two weeks, and I am scared we are going to drown, if we know enough to” (“Letter to the Editors” 50). It was a particularly condescending review of William Faulkner’s Intruder in the Dust in the New Yorker that spurred Welty to publicly chastise the editors; Edmund Wilson’s critical review, she believed, was symptomatic of a larger regional bias across the pages of the magazine. Wilson, as Suzanne Marrs notes in What There Is to Say We Have Said: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and William Maxwell, “was the chief book critic at the New Yorker for twenty-five years,” and his reviews were widely regarded during the middle decades of the twentieth century (473). “It does seem that in criticizing a novel there could be more logic and purity of judgment than Wilson shows in pulling out a map,” she chides. “In final estimate he places Faulkner up with the great, as well he might, but with a corrective tap asks him—maybe twice—to stand on just a little lower step for the group picture, to bring out a point in the composition” (“Letter to the Editors” 51). Notwithstanding this particularly contentious start to the relationship, Welty ultimately published five short stories, two novellas, and even one poem in the New Yorker. I focused my attention on Welty’s mid-century stories for the magazine—“The Bride of the Innisfallen” (December...


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pp. 179-185
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