Biography

Eudora Welty

Eudora Alice Welty
was born on April 13, 1909 in Jackson, Mississippi, to Chestina
Andrews Welty, a homemaker and avid gardener, and Christian Webb
Welty, a secretary and a director of Lamar Life Insurance
Company.  She was exposed to the fine arts from an early
age; her parents were both music lovers and took her to the theater
and concerts. Chestina Welty was an avid reader, and she taught her
daughter to read before she catered the first grade at Jefferson
Davis Elementary School in January 1915. Welty spent much of her
childhood devouring books which included myths and nursery rhymes,
the Brothers Grimm fairy tales, and works by Edward Lear, Dickens,
Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, and others. She also
enjoyed drawing, playing the piano, seeing movies, and learning
about photography from her father, who developed and printed his
own photographs.


Welty won her first prize for writing before entering high school
--- the $25 award in the Jackie Mackie Jingles contest sponsored by
Mackie Pine Oil Specialty Co., which sent her a letter encouraging
her to "improve in poetry to such an extent to win fame." While
attending Jackson's Central High School, Welty had many of her
sketches and poems published in the school newspaper. With plans of
becoming a writer she enrolled in Mississippi State College in fall
1925, and then transferred to University of Wisconsin, Madison for
her junior and senior years.  It was here that she was
first exposed to modernist writers such as Woolf, Faulkner and
Yeats, but her aspirations turned toward becoming an artist. After
graduating with a BA degree in 1929, Welty began to focus on her
interest in photography and moved to New York City to attend a
one-year advertising course at Columbia University Graduate School
of Business. But because jobs were scarce during the Depression,
she moved back home to look for work in 1931.


Shortly after Welty's return home, her father died of leukemia. She
took a variety of odd jobs.  She was a scriptwriter, an
editor of Lamar Life Radio News at WJIX, a publicity agent for the
WPA, and Jackson's social news correspondent for the Memphis
Commercial Appeal. Continuing to pursue a career in photography,
she sent a group of her photographs to a New York publisher in
1935. They were rejected, but Welty persevered until Lugene
Opticians sponsored an exhibition of her prints at the Photographic
Galleries (March 31-April I5, 1936). She also submitted her short
stories to a literary magazine Manuscript, in Athens, Ohio, which
accepted Death of a Traveling Salesman" and "Magic."


Eudora Welty continued to work on her short stories in 1937,
sending several to Robert Penn Warren and Cleanth Brooks, editors
of the newly established Southern Review at Louisiana State
University. Welty was so discouraged when they returned her story,
"Petrified Man," which other journals had also rejected, that she
tore up her only copy of it. When Warren expressed second thoughts
about his rejection, she rewrote the story from memory. In 1938
"Lily Daw and the Three Ladies" appeared in The Best Short Stories
1938, and in 1939 "A Curtain of Green" was chosen for The Best
Short Stories 1939 and "Petrified Man" appeared in O. Henry Prize
Stories of 1939, but her collections of short stories continued to
be rejected by both English and American publishers.


In 1940 Welty took on literary agent Diarmuid Russell New York, who
placed her fiction in well-paying magazines like The New Yorker,
Atlantic Monthly, and Harper's Bazaar. This was the beginning of a
close working relationship and enduring friendship between Russell
and Welty. Finally, in 1941, Doubleday, Doran offered her a
contract for a story collection, and A Curtain of Green, with an
introduction by Katherine Anne Porter, was published that November.
In 1942 she won a Guggenheim fellowship for writing fiction, and
Doubleday, Doran published the Robber Bridegroom. At the end of the
year when her editor John Woodburn left Doubleday for Harcourt
Brace, Welty moved with him. The Wide Net and Other Stories was
published by Harcourt the following September.


In 1944 Welty moved to New York City for the summer to work for
Robert Van Gelder at The New York Times Book Review, and continued
to write reviews when she returned to Jackson. In 1946 she traveled
to the West Coast, spending four months in San Francisco to write
short stories and lecture at the Northwest Pacific Writers'
Conference at the University of Washington. After a stint in New
York, upon hearing that her Guggenheim fellowship was renewed,
Welty traveled to Italy, France, England, and Ireland, where she
visited Elizabeth Bowen and worked on the short story, "The Bride
of the Innisfallen." Compiling a collection including the story,
Welty dedicated THE BRIDE OF INISFALLEN AND OTHER STORIES to Bowen
when it was published by Harcourt in January 1955.


Though Welty continued to live in Jackson, she made frequent trips
to the northeast.  She, her mother, and their Jackson
friend chartered a plane to fly to New York to attend Joseph Fields
and Jerome Chodorov's adaptation of her novel THE PONDER
HEART.  In 1969, on a Ford Foundation grant, she spent
two seasons of study and observation at the Phoenix Theatre. She
also spent a winter term at Smith College in Massachusetts as a
guest lecturer in 1962.


In October 1964 Welty's children's book, PEPE, THE SHOE BIRD, was
published by Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc. The following year
Bennett Cerf at Random House offered her a lucrative contract, but
she opted to remain with Harcourt. However, in 1969 when Harcourt
demanded that she make cuts to her draft of Losing Battles, which
she had begun years earlier while caring for her recuperating
mother, Welty terminated her contract and signed a four-book deal
with Random House.


LOSING BATTLES was published by Random House on her birthday. The
novel was nominated for a 1971 National Book Award and became her
biggest seller, prompting reprints of her earlier work. Welty
continued to garner awards, winning a Pulitzer Prize for her novel
THE OPTIMIST'S DAUGHTER, a revision of her work which was
originally published by The New Yorker. That May she also received
a Gold Medal of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, which
was presented by Katherine Porter. She even was honored with her
own day by her home state --- May 2, 1973 was declared Eudora Welty
Day in Mississippi. Welty won the National Medal for Literature in
1979, and THE COLLECTED STORIES OF EUDORA WELTY, published by
Harcourt Brace, was named an American Library Association Notable
Book in 1980. In June 1980 she was presented with the Medal of
Freedom by President Jimmy Carter in a ceremony at the White
House.


Over the past decade, Eudora Welty has written book reviews,
introductory essays, and prefaces from her home in Jackson,
Mississippi. She recently celebrated her 89th
birthday.



















Eudora Welty

Books by Eudora Welty