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Episode #101

Eudora Welty

Air date 6/17/12
Host: Gene Edwards
Guest(s): Roger Mudd, William Winter, and Suzanne Marrs

“She was the kindest, most gentle person any of us ever knew,” says host Gene Edwards of Eudora Welty. “To facilitate telling stories about her in her own living room is a dream come true.”

Mississippi Public Broadcasting crew carried the Writers round table directly into Eudora Welty’s book-filled living room. Then Welty friends Roger Mudd, William Winter, and Suzanne Marrs joined Edwards for an hour of memories and anecdotes.

“Miss Welty’s contribution to literature has been well documented,” according to Edie Greene, the series producer. “Her house and its contents are being catalogued for the future museum. This program gives us the opportunity to preserve the intangible side of Miss Welty. The guests were full of stories about her humanity and her humor and her style.”

Roger Mudd met Eudora Welty for the first time at a reception in Washington DC. On camera and behind the scenes, he commented on her perceptiveness. “I’ve never come across an eye like the Welty eye. She never missed anything.”

Suzanne Marrs, an English professor at Millsaps College, has written several books about Eudora Welty. She’s currently at work on a biography. As a neighbor and a friend as well as a Welty scholar, Marrs stopped by every evening to visit with the author. They’d have a little drink, maybe some dinner, and watch the news together.

Former Mississippi Governor William Winter had known Eudora Welty the longest. Along with Charlotte Capers, Winter was instrumental in persuading Welty to leave her house to the state as a literary museum.

And quite a house it is! The Tudor style home was built by her father in 1925, on what was then a gravel road north of Jackson. Eudora Welty moved in as a teenager, with her family, and lived there until she died in July, 2001. If all goes as planned, the house should be opening as a literary museum in 2005.

“The home will be emptied and renovation work will begin,” says Mary Alice White, Eudora Welty’s niece and now Director of the Welty House Museum. “The house has 1925 electrical wiring. It does not have central air. There is foundation work that needs to be done. So that has to be completed and then we will have documented everything, and it will be put back in place as it was when Eudora lived here.”

Most things will be in place. The Pulitzer Prize, which White found in a corrugated box in the closet along with other awards and degrees from various universities, will go on display in a visitor center on adjacent property.

In the upstairs bedroom in the modest brown house sits a simple desk and typewriter. This is where Eudora Welty wrote most of the books and short stories that hold a lasting place in American literature.

Eudora Welty practiced the best of the southern storytelling tradition. “She had such a compassion for people. She observed people. She understood human relationships,” White says. “She had such insight and was so interesting to talk to, just the stories and listening to her talk, her beautiful voice and her way with words.”

Her friends reminisce about her love of language, her joy in simply playing with words. Roger Mudd recalls, “Till the day she dies, she went by every morning to the Jitney Jungle, I think, because she love the sound of Jitney and Jungle.”

Her ear for perfect Southern dialect shines in her work as do her sense of humor and her range as a writer. Her observations of the world turn into a celebration of ourselves, our interior lives as well as the things and events that make our lives happy and sad, wondrous and deep.

“She looked at the world with a compassionate understanding that hardly anyone I can think of has had,” remembers Timothy Seldes, Welty’s friend and literary agent. “I miss her a lot.”

 

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