Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Eudora Welty (copy)

As readers blow out Richard Wright’s centennial candles, another cake awaits decorating. Eudora Welty lovers are planning celebrations statewide since she was born April 13, 1909 in Jackson, Mississippi. Of course, Welty’s home for 76 years will be the centerpiece for activities with staff offering free tours on her birthday.

If one cannot attend the festivities in Jackson, the “Mississippi Reads” program encourages citizens to read her Collected Stories. As the title infers, the book is a collection of Welty’s short stories and essays which provide an easy avenue for studying her works by digesting a little at a time.

Since Thanksgiving, I have read numerous titles in the collection. My favorite is A Worn Path. First published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1941, it received second place honors during the O. Henry Awards that year. I deem it first place.

A Worn Path describes an elderly woman’s journey to town in order to obtain medicine for her grandson. It is early morning and the frost covers the earth as she begins her walk somewhere on the Natchez Trail into Natchez.

Her name is Phoenix Jackson, and she is ill prepared for the journey. Although the sun shines bright, it is bitterly cold, and for warmth she wears a long dress, a red rag on her head, a thin sack apron, and unlaced shoes. Her cane, made from a tatter umbrella, rights her slender body as best it can, but still she stumbles on the uneven path.

Along the way she encounters hurdles. A ghost in the field becomes a scarecrow as her eyes and mind slowly focus. A black dog comes at her, and she backs it off with her cane only to tumble into a ravine from which she cannot get out. A hunter extracts her from the gully and tries to talk her into returning home.

Phoenix is a metaphor for life as she encounters obstacles on her journey but must press on. This rich story took shape after Welty, looking outside her train window, saw a black woman crossing an open field. Why was she crossing the field? Where was she going? It is amazing when one realizes a character as diverse as Phoenix was developed solely from a passing glance.

Consider this the year you take up the Eudora Welty banner. Read her stories, read her books, and grab another Mississippian for discussion.

Errata: This article takes on a whole new spin now that I have an interview with Miss Welty indicating she was out with artist friends when she saw the woman cross on the horizon. I am so sorry. I thought I read somewhere that it was while she was on a train!

32 comments:

Yolanda said...

I think I will have to reread some of her works in this her 100th year. What a grand lady and Mississippian she was.

maggie moran said...

Yea, Yolanda! Sometimes the language makes me mad, but then I have to think when it was written. She mentions Como and Coldwater in some of her stories! Give ya a down home feelin'. :)

Eva said...

I have this collection, so I'll definitely be diving into it! Good to know it's her centennial. :D

Janice Tracy said...

Enjoyed your post and the reminder about the celebration. Miss Welty's works are among my favorites.

Bookfool said...

I didn't realize this year is her 100th birthday! Thanks for mentioning that. I really ought to watch the news, now and then.

maggie moran said...

Great Eva! A Worn Path is not to be missed!

Great Janice! I moved to MS in '95, and enjoy reading her (getting to know her) with my neighbors. :)

Oh, Bookfool! You will be in thick of it around April. I watched A Worn Path this afternoon on YouTube and it was filmed in Canton. Near ya, right? ;)

Susie said...

I lived around the corner from Miss Welty in the Belhaven neighborhood of Jackson MS. We shopped at the same Jitney Jungle and sometimes we would both be choosing apples from the same pile in the produce department. Sometimes I passed her on the street in her car(but gave her wide berth because her driving skills were questionable).I am still thrilled that I lived so near one of my favorite writers. Rumor had it that if you left a book on her doorstep, she would sign it and leave it for you to pick up later on the porch. I still regret that I never did!

maggie moran said...

The rumor is true, Susie! I got to tour the house and the newly acquired next door museum in December with her niece Mary Alice! They joked about her favorite chair to look out for visitors and invite them into her den. Perfect strangers and usually they would be autograph hounds. When she became too weak to answer the door her helpers would turn people away, but always take books back for her to sign first. I have no doubt this was done. Reading the Marrs book, she says Miss Welty was happy for the workers to say no for her - she was one of those girls who cain't say no. *sing-along* ;D

One of the instructors in our group had her own autographed copy of One Writer's Beginnings and she admitted to being a door ringer!

Deb said...

Thanks for mention this. I think a little trek to Jackson MS might be in order. A Worn Path is indeed a masterpiece.

maggie moran said...

Oh, Deb, Great! I live 2 hours from Jackson and 1 hour from Memphis! If you are in the area please let me know. I'll treat you to lunch! :)

Nan said...

Oh, how I wish I could be in Mississippi in April. The second best thing will be reading more of her work in 2009. Very nice report on A Worn Path. I just checked and I have it, and will read it soon. Thanks, Maggie.

maggie moran said...

Yea, Nan! April is a good time for you to visit, too. Our humidity isn't too bad yet! ;D Hey, maybe you can join the Southern Reading Challenge again! Like you need a reason to read Welty?!?

sage said...

Happy upcoming birthday, Eudora. I must confess that I've only read on of her books, "One Writer's Beginning," but I did enjoy it and should read more.

Vasilly said...

Maggie, what would I do without your reviews and great humor? This is for you:

http://1330v.blogspot.com/2009/01/premio-darios-award.html

maggie moran said...

Ah, that pesky Southern Summer Challenge will be coming up soon, Sage. Through my readings, I have found she is more noted for her short stories, but they lack twists and turns in normal favorites like "The Yellow Wallpaper," "A Good Man is Hard to Find," and "The Fire" by London. I would say she is best known for her excellent characters and dialogue within all her works. Um, you should read more Welty. :)

Ah,VaSilly! You are too kind! :)

Sharon said...

This sounds wonderful. I'll have to check it out at Amazon! I watched the interview and enjoyed listening to her.

I always enjoy your reviews.

Sharon

maggie moran said...

Aw, thanks Sharon. Doesn't she have a wonderful voice. It has a fullness one doesn't expect. I just hate that I put out a story someone will take as fact and perpetuate for years to come. I'm thinking of all those school children looking for something to write about A Worn Path. :P

April said...

This sounds like a very interesting book. I have not seen it before, but will have to keep my eyes out for it.

Diane said...

Thanks for reminding me that I've been meaning to add Welty to my reading list!

maggie moran said...

It is older, April. I was talking to someone yesterday, and didn't encounter Miss Welty as a student in a Tennessee school. I started reading her while a citizen of Mississippi in my 30s. I'm delighted with her work. :)

How 'bout putting it on your summer reading pile! *nudge - nudge* ;)

Diane said...

excellent idea!

Anonymous said...

I have one of her book, Thirteen Stories. I won it in a giveaway recently.

I gotta read it soon. After reading this, I will. No excuses!

And you have been tagged!

I have been lazy, hence I make excuses"

Robin said...

I will definitely be reading more Welty this year to celebrate the 100 years! I'm surprised I don't already have her Collected Stories, but will order it as a lovely present to myself!

Anonymous said...

Eudora Welty was in a class of her own as a writer - the highest one.

maggie moran said...

Ugh, ya got me Gautami! You can save Thirteen Stories for the Southern Reading Challenge coming in May! That is, if you have other pressing needs! :)

Like I told Gautami, you could wait and read it for the Southern Reading Challenge this summer if you want to discuss it with other readers, Robin. I'm participating in a discussion on Welty in Jackson, MS and have benefitted greatly from the scholar's perspectives! Otherwise, I think I might have thought of her as a weaker writer than the legend claims.

Thanks Paul! We discussed the southern class system yesterday, and it seems like she move through the different social stratums with a hidden ease. She did set herself apart w/out anyone being aware - tres smart! :D

Thoughts of Joy said...

I have this collection on my TBR list, but have no clue where I originally saw it. Loved the stories in the comments - very interesting.

maggie moran said...

Joy - I hope you can join us this summer and read Welty along with others! Thanks for stopping by! :)

April said...

LOL, I just may do that, Maggie! I was just thinking about the Southern Reading Challenge the other day and remembering how much I enjoyed it! I can't wait for this years!

maggie moran said...

Kewl April! *thumbs wiggling up*

Deana said...

I read some of her works last year and need to go back and read more. Our Lab Eudora was named for her so I felt obligated but I actually enjoyed her work, not a fave of mine but enjoyable.

maggie moran said...

Deana - Nice to hear from you! I didn't really appreciate her talent by reading he work by myself. I tend to take things on the surface and Welty has a deep layer that through adult discussion, I have become amazed! For instance the short story "Moon Lake" has an emmence sexual tone that I SOOOO missed while reading it a month ago! To reread "Moon Lake" now sends me into a deep redish blush! :D

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