- “Everybody to their own visioning”: Eudora Welty in the Twenty-First Century
On a spring weekend in April of 2013 we had the pleasure of welcoming Welty scholars to Texas and the campus of Texas A&M University for the international conference of the Eudora Welty Society: “Everybody to their own visioning”: Eudora Welty in the Twenty-First Century. Sponsored by the Departments of English and Performance Studies, the Melbern G. Glasscock Center for Humanities Research, and the Academy for Visual and Performing Arts at Texas A&M and by Baylor University, the conference drew attendees and participants at every stage of their careers, from graduate students to emeritus faculty, and from across the US—in a few instances, even further afield! Highlights of the conference included North Carolina novelist Jill McCorkle’s fiction reading, a presentation on the Welty archive by Forrest Galey and Betty Uzman of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Suzanne Marrs’s keynote address on Welty and William Maxwell, a performance of David Kaplan’s A Fire Was in My Head featuring Brenda Currin and Philip Fortenberry, and a host of exciting papers developed in response to the conference call for papers on any aspect of Welty’s life, work, or reception. Presentations, often informed by new archival research, addressed a wide variety of topics: Welty’s intertextual relations with other writers and artists from William Faulkner, James Joyce, and Elizabeth Bowen to Bob Dylan and Leni Riefenstahl; representations and performances of sexuality, gender, race, social class, and material culture in her fiction and photography; her productive engagements with film, the visual arts, and other media; and her keen responsiveness to southern and American history.
At the conference, as in this special issue of the Eudora Welty Review, no single approach or particular Welty text dominated the discourse; contributors to this issue deploy a variety of critical methodologies as windows for examining all of Welty’s novels and many of her short stories, as well as her photography, letters, and nonfiction. A shared concern does emerge in these essays, however, for visioning and revisioning the place of Welty’s work in literary history and in current critical conversations. This concern [End Page 3] for placing Welty’s work is perhaps apt for an author who is noted for her attention to place. In her essay “Place in Fiction,” Welty discusses the connection of identity and place, commenting that “it is by knowing where you stand that you grow able to judge where you are” (792). Place becomes both literal space and abstract position, historical situatedness and aesthetic stance. Writing about an author who died only thirteen years ago, these critics have a responsibility not only to know where Welty’s work stands in the canon and in relation to the important larger theoretical conversations of our time but also to shape that identity by placing Welty in contexts that will allow her work to be valued and revalued. This shared vision animated the 2013 conference and now provides the collective energy that drives these eight essays, all of which were developed from papers originally presented in Texas.
Danièle Pitavy-Souques and Stephen Fuller both move beyond the familiar “southern literature” context to address Welty’s place in the larger literary canon. Pitavy-Souques has written extensively on Welty’s modernism and in this article, “‘Moments of Truth’: Eudora Welty’s Humanism,” turns her attention to the last three longer works Welty wrote. She argues that these texts, Losing Battles, The Optimist’s Daughter, and One Writer’s Beginnings, should be read as a “period” in Welty’s work, much as we see “periods” in painters’ techniques. In this “late period,” Welty concentrates on the long form in an attempt to reach more readers. She also demonstrates a “renewed emphasis on humanism” (12). The “moments of truth” Welty uses in these longer works put her in conversation with modernists such as Marcel Proust. Fuller in “Eudora Welty and Postmodern Performativity” focuses on earlier, shorter works to connect her presentation of “parodic narrators” to the poststructuralist concerns of postmodern texts (27). He uses the story “A Memory” as his key...