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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

13. Southern Renaissance

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- William Faulkner
- Zora Neale Hurston
- Flannery O'Connor
- Katherine Anne Porter
- John Crowe Ransom
- Robert Penn Warren
- Eudora Welty
- Tennessee Williams
- Thomas Wolfe
- Richard Wright
- Suggested
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: Eudora Welty (1909-2001)

Two Women Walking along Street, Natchez, Mississippi
[5169] Ben Shahn, Two Women Walking along Street, Natchez, Mississippi (1935), courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USF33-006093-M4 DLC].

Eudora Welty Activities
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Eudora Alice Welty was born in Jackson, Mississippi, where she lived nearly all of her life. A first-generation Mississippian, Welty grew up in comfortable circumstances and developed an early love of reading. After graduating from the local high school at age sixteen, Welty spent two years at Mississippi State College for Women before transferring to the University of Wisconsin, where she earned a B.A. in English in 1929. She declared her intention of becoming a writer, but decided to go into advertising after her father expressed concern that she would be unable to support herself and that writing was perhaps a waste of time. "He was not a lover of fiction," Welty once recalled, "because fiction is not true, and for that flaw it was forever inferior to fact." But Welty continued to write, and her job interviewing poor rural southerners and writing stories as a publicity agent for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) helped her develop her ability to capture dialogue and bring to life the variety of situations that would comprise her later fiction. In addition to her writing, the photographs Welty took to accompany her WPA stories have become an important part of her legacy as a southern storyteller. By 1936 Welty had begun publishing stories in several small but influential southern journals, and she quickly attracted the notice of established writers such as Robert Penn Warren and Katherine Anne Porter. Porter was especially encouraging; she eventually wrote the preface to Welty's first collection of stories, A Curtain of Green, published in 1941.

Welty's writing is rooted in the places she knew best--small southern towns peopled with seemingly ordinary characters who love to talk and whose conversation reveals their complex and often wryly amusing interior lives. Many of her best-known and most frequently anthologized stories--such as "Why I Live at the P.O." or "Petrified Man"--feature characters who seem to thrive on the tension and unpredictability that arises from teasing, taunting, or bickering with each other, yet who generally seem to be friends despite their differences. By dramatizing the ordinary and everyday conversations of her characters, Welty often demonstrates that differences can bring people together, just as much as they can tear them apart.

Welty won numerous literary awards in her lifetime, including three O'Henry prizes, a Pulitzer, the American Book Award, the Modern Language Association Commonwealth Award, and the National Medal of Arts. Her story "Why I Live at the P.O." also inspired the developer of a popular email program to name his software after her. At the time of her death, Welty was considered by many to be the South's greatest living writer.

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