Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Centennial Celebration

I'd be remiss to let the week pass without acknowledging the one hundred anniversary of the birth of Eudora Welty yesterday, April 13. I have loved her short stories and her longer works of fiction--especially "Why I Live at the P.O.," which is best experienced by hearing the author read it herself. My favorite of all her works, though, is her memoir, One Writer's Beginnings.

I remember reading it when I was traveling with the Mars Hill debate team in one of my first years of teaching. The book is so small I read it between rounds. She works such magic with her narrative that when I went back to the book to find my favorite part, I found that what I remembered seamlessly had actually been woven throughout the book. The strongest image is her discovering of her mother's keepsakes--particularly a long braid and a pair of nickels that she learned had been placed on her dead brother's eyes. I also remembered the story of the set of Dickens novels that had arrived in a crate and were saved from a house fire.

I never saw Miss Welty in the flesh, but I've met so many people who have their stories. One woman in my hometown had lived for several years in Mississippi a neighbor to Welty. Dori Sanders, the charming South Carolina author, tells a story of attending a presentation once when she knew Eudora Welty would be in attendance. She arrived early enough to get an aisle seat, but Sanders' mothers teaching wouldn't let her sit there. After she moved down to leave the aisle seat vacant, she revealed, "Miss Eudora came and sat by me." The last, indeed, shall be first.

When I heard the news of Welty's death, I felt an inexplicable sadness, but then I started getting emails from all over, mourning the loss to the literary world. Oxford American ran a special section of tributes to her in the next issue. She may not have lived to celebrate this 100th birthday, but I feel sure her stories will have staying power.

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