Moving Closer to Eudora Welty

My jasmine connection with EudoraOnce upon a time, I claimed I was one degree removed from Eudora Welty. I confess I stretched to find that connection to Eudora – Pulitzer Prize winner and arguably Mississippi’s best known female writer. My mother worked in north Mississippi as Oktibbeha County recreation director under the auspices of WPA. At the same time, Miss Welty was writing stories and taking pictures across the state as a WPA reporter, burning images in her mind and heart as well as in the photographs – images that would take life in her Mississippi stories. As far as I know, Mama and Miss Welty never met, which might make one claim that’s more than one degree, but I’m telling this story.

Moving to three quarters of a degree came when my aunt told of attending a reception in Miss Welty’s honor and the special time she took to talk to my younger cousin. Hannah had broken her arm skating, and Miss Welty held up the line to discuss her cast.One bookshelf connection with Eudora

I read aloud Eudora’s One Writer’s Beginnings, the best selling memoir of her early years, with my eighth grade students. In her memoir, she emphasizes that one does not have to have a troubled childhood to become a writer. On pleasant Sunday afternoon drives, she sat on the back seat and instructed the adults in the front, “Now, talk.” She listened and absorbed the stories. I, too, came from a fairly normal family and eavesdropped on conversations. Half a degree removed?

A year of travel back and forth to teach in two different schools brought me closer still. I listened to tapes of Eudora reading her own stories for forty-five minutes each day as I drove from one school to the other.  Recognizing her characters even more closely in her voice as she read “Why I Live at the P. O.” and “The Well-Worn Path,” I understood why she insisted on reading her own work when it went into audio production. When my young adult novel sells, my request will be to follow my role model and read my own work. A Mississippi story needs to be read with a Mississippi accent. Besides, the only thing I’ve sorely missed about teaching was read-aloud time with my students. Surely, this brings me to a scant quarter degree removed.

My old-fashioned rose connection with EudoraWhen it opened to the public, I visited the Welty family home, restored to look as if Miss Welty had just walked out for a few minutes. Our tour group visited her garden where she worked when she wasn’t writing – a practice I share with her. My final connection came when we entered her house with books stacked in bookshelves, on tables, and in chairs. Her niece, who gave the tour, said, “If you visited Eudora, first you had to move some books to sit down.” After we shove the books over, Eudora and I are figuratively sitting side by side.And we both need to shove over a book or two to sit down!

Now where is that Pulitzer?

* I wrote this piece several years ago, and it was published in the winter 2007 issue of Once Upon a Time, a magazine for children’s writers. I’m posting it on the 103 anniversary of Eudora’s birth.