- Building A Legacy
Teaching the Works of Eudora Welty: Twenty-First-Century Approaches is the most generous academic text I have read in a very long time: generous, in both its sharing of developed teaching materials, and in its posture toward others and overall sense of good faith. Edited by prominent Welty scholars Mae Miller Claxton and Julia Eichelberger, this collection of thirty-one essays (plus introduction, and additional resources and information) offers a diverse array of pedagogical methodologies for teaching Welty’s fiction, nonfiction, letters, and photography, with a majority of the essays focusing on Welty’s short stories. (Somewhat expectedly, “A Worn Path” has a dominant presence throughout the collection.) The collection’s contributors are diverse, including university professors and lecturers, independent scholars, a community-college professor, a PhD student, and a high school teacher. The form of their contributions varies in style as well; some give quick notes for productive discussion points, while others provide lengthy, step-by-step explanations on how to walk students through particular readings. The collection is an amalgamation of teaching experience and dedicated time spent with Welty’s writing. The readability of these essays is impressive: all are quick, straightforward readings, unencumbered by jargon, though still moored in current scholarly topics. In content, these essays demonstrate different approaches to Welty’s work, and—especially important for busy teachers—implications for reading particular texts using particular approaches. Seasoned in Welty instruction, the contributors not only give insights into instructional successes but also generously explain how and why certain approaches and lessons proved to be unsuccessful. Indeed, [End Page 144] most of the contributors even explain the types of student arguments that arose from particular approaches.
A striking aspect of this collection is the number of essays offering a comparativist model for teaching Welty. Contributors explain how they teach Welty in conversation with Native American writing, African-American writing, Chicano/Chicana writing, African writing, et cetera. The collection provides excellent techniques for teaching students a number of skills, from how to read literature to developing a writerly voice. Perhaps my favorite aspect of the collection is the exceptional presence of pleasure, as many of the contributors position their pedagogical approaches as ways to enhance pleasure. Indeed, from the activist to the aesthete, the contributors offer essays for a multitude of teaching philosophies. I found three essays particularly useful given my status in academia.
As a PhD student at a flagship state university, I primarily teach freshmen composition. Additionally, my institution’s composition program is rhetoric-focused with many pre-determined requirements. While beneficial in may respects, the design of this program leaves little to no room for literature. However, Virginia Ottley Craighill’s essay, “Finding the Freshman Voice: Using One Writer’s Beginnings in the Classroom” makes a strong argument for how Welty’s autobiographical text can help new writers develop a sense of voice through writing. At a time when most students do not have a strong connection with writing—especially sustained writing rather than tweets—One Writer’s Beginnings is a productive text because Welty’s use of the essay makes herself present so clearly and affectively. Though the class Craighill describes is less rhetoric-focused than my composition classes, I definitely plan to follow her advice to use Welty as a way to help students connect to the essay form and to see writing as a dynamic medium of expression. Teaching students how to appreciate voice in writing and how to develop their own voice (which can be used in many textual genres) is crucial for freshmen college students because it sets a defining precedent for good writing and what they can achieve in producing texts.
Another essay from this collection I found to be particularly helpful is Sarah Gilbreath Ford’s “Teaching Welty’s Narrative Strategies in Delta Wedding.” For some time now, I have been concerned about how I would teach my favorite novel. For me, Delta Wedding’s greatness comes from the way in which Welty conveys...