Saturday, January 5, 2008

Listening to The Storyteller from Mississippi

During high school I was introduced to the wonderful works of Mississippi’s Eudora Alice Welty and from that point on, I have always been a fan of Welty.

Twenty-six years ago I purchased her new book, The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty and today that book is displayed in my bookcase as one of my prized literary possessions.

During the 1930s, Welty worked as a photographer for the Works Progress Administration, a job that sent her all over the state photographing people from all economic and social classes. Sometimes I wonder if that work influenced her writings. She always seemed to be able to create the most colorful yet believable characters.

Her novel The Optimist's Daughter won the Pulitzer Prize in 1973. In later life, she lived near Belhaven College in Jackson and despite her literary fame, she was still a common sight around town. One could greet her at the grocery store, see her on a leisurely walk, or run into her just about anywhere that any other person would go.

Welty once wrote about her literary characters: “I have been told…that I seem to love all my characters. What I do in writing of any character is to try to enter into the mind, heart, and skin of a human being who is not myself. Whether this happens to be a man or a woman, old or young, with skin black or white, the primary challenge lies in making the jump itself. It is the act of a writer’s imagination that I set most high.”

Over the holidays I became re-introduced to many of her colorful characters. I purchased Essential Welty, an audio CD of her short stories Why I Live at the P.O., Powerhouse and The Petrified Man, all read by Welty herself.

Her deep southern accent, soothing as scented talcum and as delicate as a Mississippi tea cake, brought her short stories to life once again for me. Originally recorded during 1956, this collection uniquely tells three of her stories as only she can tell them.

That audio CD now resides in my bookshelf right along with The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty, as a valued addition to my Mississippi literary collection.

Welty quote from the preface of The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, May 1980

For further information about Eudora Welty, visit the Eudora Welty Foundation.

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