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A Daring Life

A Biography of Eudora Welty

Carolyn J. Brown

Publication Year: 2012

Mississippi author Eudora Welty, the first living writer to be published in the Library of America series, mentored many of today's greatest fiction writers and is a fascinating woman, having lived the majority of the twentieth century (1909-2001). Her life reflects a century of change and is closely entwined with many events that mark our recent history. This biography follows this twentieth-century path while telling Welty's story, beginning with her parents and their important influence on her reading and writing life. The chapters that follow focus on her education and her most important teachers; her life during the Depression and how her career, just getting started, is interrupted by World War II; and how she shows independence and courage through her writing during the turbulent civil rights period of the 1950s and 1960s.

After years of care giving and the deaths of all her immediate family members, Welty persevered and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for The Optimist's Daughter. Her popularity soared in the 1980s after she delivered the three William E. Massey Lectures to standing-room-only crowds at Harvard, and the lectures were later published as One Writer's Beginnings and became a New York Times bestseller. This biography intends to introduce readers to one of the most significant women writers of the past century, a prolific author who transcends her Mississippi roots and has written short stories, novels, and non-fiction that will endure for all time.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

Cover, title page, frontispiece, copyright, dedication

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pp. ix

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ONE: Life in Jackson: Eudora’s Early Years

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pp. 3-14

Seeing a snowflake for the first time is one of these moments. Eudora Welty recounts this experience she had as a six-year-old elementary student in music class. She was living in Mississippi, in the hot and humid South, where snow was seldom seen, and she...

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TWO: Eudora’s Education

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pp. 15-27

Eudora credits her parents for what she calls her “knowledge of the word,” meaning her reading and spelling skills, because they taught her the alphabet at an early age. In One Writer’s Beginnings, she describes how essential she believes the alphabet is as the...

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THREE: The 1930s: Finding Her Eye and Her Voice

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pp. 28-36

Back home in Jackson, Eudora reunited with old friends and felt more at ease than she had in Madison. She found part-time work at the local newspaper, the Jackson Daily News, writing witty journalistic pieces. Several of her Jackson friends, however, had plans to enter graduate school at Columbia University in New York

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FOUR: Before the War: Friends, Fellowship, and Early Success

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pp. 37-48

The loss of her job as a junior publicity agent for the WPA turned out to be a boon as Eudora entered her most productive literary period ever, publishing ten stories between 1937 and 1939 and exhibiting photographs in a second show at Samuel Robbins’s new gallery in New York. Pulitzer Prize–winning author Robert Penn Warren, who was editor...

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FIVE: World War II: A Promising Career Interrupted

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pp. 49-58

Eudora had a large circle of friends, but her relationship with John Robinson seems to have become more intense during the years leading up to World War II. War was in the background of daily life now; Eudora writes to Diarmuid Russell that military maneuvers are becoming a distraction...

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SIX: The 1960s: Personal and Political Unrest

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pp. 59-66

Concern over the health of loved ones became Eudora’s focus after the travel, awards, and success that highlighted her life during the first half of the 1950s. Chestina Welty’s eyes were deteriorating and she suffered from food allergies, and both of Eudora’s brothers were afflicted with arthritis. The fall of 1956 would see all three Weltys hospitalized briefly, and foreshadow more serious...

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SEVEN: Grief and Recovery: The Optimist’s Daughter and One Writer’s Beginnings

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pp. 67-74

The double loss Eudora experienced in January 1966—the deaths of both her mother and younger brother—were sorrows from which she struggled to heal. Writing and travel, as they had previously in her life, provided much needed distractions; Eudora had many friends on whom she could count to help her through this difficult...

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EIGHT: The Importance of Friendship: Eudora’s Final Days

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pp. 75-84

The success of One Writer’s Beginnings was followed by a whirlwind of honors and accolades for Eudora, celebrating a lifetime of literary achievement. Between 1984 and 1998 she received no less than nine honorary degrees, from such varied and prestigious institutions as Wake Forest University, William and Mary, Princeton, the University of Burgundy in France, and Mississippi University...

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AFTERWORD: Eudora Welty’s House

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pp. 85-89

During her lifetime, Eudora Welty donated manuscripts, photographs, correspondence, published works, and secondary works about her fiction to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. The culmination of this great generosity came in 1986 when she deeded her home to the state of Mississippi, subject to a life estate interest. According to the Eudora Welty Foundation website, “in giving it to...

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pp. 90-91

I would like to thank the following individuals for permission to quote or use materials in their possession: Liz Thompson and Mary Alice Welty White, Eudora’s nieces, who spent countless hours with me, sharing photographs, reading drafts, and answering questions; Dr. Suzanne Marrs, my mentor, friend, and author of the definitive biography of Eudora Welty, who also shared items from her private...

Appendix 1: Eudora Welty’s Artwork

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pp. 92-94

Appendix 2: Chronology of Eudora Welty’s Life

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pp. 95-96

Appendix 3: Books by Eudora Welty

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pp. 97-98

Appendix 4: Major Adaptations of Eudora Welty’s Works

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p. 99-99

Appendix 5: List of Honorary Degrees and Major Awards

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pp. 100-103

Abbreviations Used in the Notes

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p. 104-104

Source Notes

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pp. 105-112


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pp. 113-116


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pp. 117-120


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pp. 121-124

E-ISBN-13: 9781617032974
E-ISBN-10: 1617032972
Print-ISBN-13: 9781617032950

Page Count: 144
Publication Year: 2012