Daring From Within
Why Eudora Welty stayed put
By Ann Patchett | From Preservation | September/October 2006
"A sheltered life can be a daring life as well," Eudora Welty wrote at the close of her memoir, One Writer's Beginnings. "For all serious daring starts from within." We have too long thought of daring in terms of Ernest Hemingway taking his guns up to Kilimanjaro, or Dorothy Parker setting the pace at the Algonquin Hotel. It is a pleasure now to be able to consider daring as an art—an intellectual pursuit—that came to pass in a house in Mississippi.
Eudora Welty, who died five years ago at age 92, was born in the state capital of Jackson, and she stayed there. That's not to say she never left. She went away to college, first to Columbus, Miss., and then to Wisconsin. She lived for a time in New York City. She visited Europe. She famously traveled the South taking pictures and writing for the WPA during the Depression. But after her father died of leukemia in 1931, she went home to be with her mother, and it was there, in the house at 1119 Pinehurst St., that she did her work and lived her life.
When you've had the opportunity both to read her books and to walk through her home, it becomes clear how the two are connected. She was a writer who believed there was plenty that was interesting about small-town life, and she filled her Mississippi characters with passionate convictions and dazzling intensity. The woman who lived at the P.O. and the group that came to gossip in the beauty parlor, the visiting jazz impresario and the lowly traveling salesman—all are recorded with Homeric nobility. And although Welty may have been working from home, she was no Emily Dickinson. Her life was full of friends dropping by for conversation, the exchange of books, and the occasional glass of bourbon. One imagines the laughter was so loud, the most glamorous of the New York literati had to wonder whether the lush life wasn't actually somewhere farther south.
Save America's Treasures awarded a grant of $251,000 toward the restoration of the Eudora Welty House in 2002.
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