Eudora Welty: Biography, Short Stories & Books

Instructor: Natarielle Powell
Would you set aside your writing career to care for your sickly mother and siblings? Eudora Welty did. In addition to being a highly-celebrated writer and photographer, she was an extremely compassionate woman. Her amazing story is told in this lesson.

A young Eudora Welty
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Early Childhood and Family Life

Eudora Welty , a Southern writer, was born on April 13, 1909 in Jackson, Mississippi. Her father, Christian, worked as an insurance executive, while her mother, Mary Chestina, was a teacher. Eudora had two younger brothers, Edward and Walter, who developed severe arthritis later in life and greatly depended on her care. The Welty's childhood home, built in 1925, now serves as a national historic landmark and museum in Jackson, Mississippi.

Eudora in middle age
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Education and Employment

A childhood love of reading led Eudora to college-level studies in English literature. She studied at the Mississippi State College for Women for two years and then went on to the University of Wisconsin, where she graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1929. Eudora also pursued graduate studies in advertising at Columbia University in New York at the start of the Great Depression. This period of economic despair made finding work difficult in the United States and abroad. It led to the establishment of the Works Progress Administration, later the Work Projects Administration (WPA), which was part of President Roosevelt's New Deal.

When her father became ill and died, Eudora moved back to Jackson to work at a radio station and write a society column for the Memphis newspaper, Commercial Appeal. She went on to work for the WPA as a publicity agent, collecting stories and interviews from writers. She even formed a writers' group called the Night-Blooming Cereus Club. Eudora found the group and writing so stimulating that she quit her job three years later to become a full-time writer.

Photography Work

While Eudora worked at the WPA, she often took pictures that showed how the Great Depression impacted rural Southern families. Her photographs were featured in two different books, One Time, One Place: Mississippi in the Depression and Eudora Welty: Photographs.

One of many short stories
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Writing Career

Eudora established herself as a serious writer in 1936 when her first short story, Death of a Traveling Salesman, was published. In 1941, Doubleday published A Curtain of Green, her first collection of short stories. What many of Eudora's stories have in common are their depictions of the close and sometimes strange bonds between family members. By contrast, her first novel, The Robber Bridegroom, is more of a fairy tale.

After The Robber Bridegroom was published, Eudora decided to postpone her writing career for more than ten years. During this time, she took care of her two brothers who had severe arthritis and her mother who had suffered a stroke. She did not begin writing again until 1966 when her mom died.

Below are some other notable highlights of Eudora Welty's long and prolific writing career:

Novels:

Delta Wedding (1946)

The Ponder Heart (1954)

The Shoe Bird (1964)

Losing Battles (1970)

The Optimist's Daughter (1972)

Short Stories:

A Worn Path (1941)

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