Eudora Alice Welty (April 13, 1909 – July 23, 2001) was an American short story writer, novelist and photographer who wrote about the American South. Her novel The Optimist's Daughter won the Pulitzer Prize in 1973. Welty received numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Order of the South. She was the first living author to have her works published by the Library of America. Her house in Jackson, Mississippi has been designated as a National Historic Landmark and is open to the public as a house museum.

Eudora Welty
Eudora Welty in 1962
Eudora Alice Welty

(1909-04-13)April 13, 1909
DiedJuly 23, 2001(2001-07-23) (aged 92)
Jackson, Mississippi, U.S.
EducationMississippi University for Women
University of Wisconsin, Madison (BA)
Columbia University (MA)
Occupation(s)Author, photographer
AwardsEdward MacDowell Medal
Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
1973 The Optimist's Daughter
National Book Award for Fiction
1983 The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty



Eudora Welty was born in Jackson, Mississippi, on April 13, 1909, the daughter of Christian Webb Welty (1879–1931) and Mary Chestina (Andrews) Welty (1883–1966). She grew up with younger brothers Edward Jefferson and Walter Andrews.[1] Her mother was a schoolteacher. Her family were members of the Methodist church.[2] Her childhood home is still standing and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 prior to being delisted in 1986 because a dormer and deck were added to the roof.[3]

Welty soon developed a love of reading reinforced by her mother, who believed that "any room in our house, at any time in the day, was there to read in, or to be read to."[4] Her father, who worked as an insurance executive, was intrigued by gadgets and machines and inspired in Welty a love of mechanical things. She later used technology for symbolism in her stories and also became an avid photographer, like her father.[5]

She attended Central High School in Jackson.[6] Near the time of her high school graduation, Welty moved with her family to a house built for them at 1119 Pinehurst Street, which remained her permanent address until her death. Wyatt C. Hedrick designed the Weltys' Tudor Revival-style home, which is now known as the Eudora Welty House and Garden.[7]

The Eudora Welty House

Welty studied at the Mississippi State College for Women from 1925 to 1927, then transferred to the University of Wisconsin to complete her studies in English literature. At the suggestion of her father, she studied advertising at Columbia University. Because she graduated in the depths of the Great Depression, she struggled to find work in New York.

Soon after Welty returned to Jackson in 1931, her father died of leukemia. She took a job at a local radio station and wrote as a correspondent about Jackson society for the Memphis newspaper The Commercial Appeal.[8][9] In 1933, she began work for the Works Progress Administration. As a publicity agent, she collected stories, conducted interviews, and took photographs of daily life in Mississippi. She gained a wider view of Southern life and the human relationships that she drew from for her short stories.[10] During this time she also held meetings in her house with fellow writers and friends, a group she called the Night-Blooming Cereus Club. Three years later, she left her job to become a full-time writer.[5]

In 1936, she published "The Death of a Traveling Salesman" in the literary magazine Manuscript, and soon published stories in several other notable publications including The Sewanee Review and The New Yorker.[11] She strengthened her place as an influential Southern writer when she published her first book of short stories, A Curtain of Green. Her new-found success won her a seat on the staff of The New York Times Book Review, as well as a Guggenheim Fellowship which enabled her to travel to France, England, Ireland, and Germany.[12] While abroad, she spent some time as a resident lecturer at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, becoming the first woman to be permitted into the hall of Peterhouse College.[13] In 1960, she returned home to Jackson to care for her elderly mother and two brothers.[14]

After Medgar Evers, field secretary of the NAACP in Mississippi, was assassinated, she published a story in The New Yorker, "Where Is the Voice Coming From?". She wrote it in the first person as the assassin.

In 1971, she published a collection of her photographs depicting the Great Depression, titled One Time, One Place. Two years later, she received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her novel The Optimist's Daughter.[12][15] She lectured at Harvard University, and eventually adapted her talks as a three-part memoir titled One Writer's Beginnings.[5][16] She continued to live in her family house in Jackson until her death from natural causes on July 23, 2001.[17] She is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Jackson. Her headstone has a quote from The Optimist's Daughter: "For her life, any life, she had to believe, was nothing but the continuity of its love."[18]

Throughout the 1970s, Welty carried on a lengthy correspondence with novelist Ross Macdonald, creator of the Lew Archer series of detective novels.[19][20]



While Welty worked as a publicity agent for the Works Progress Administration, she took photographs of people from all economic and social classes in her spare time. From the early 1930s, her photographs show Mississippi's rural poor and the effects of the Great Depression.[21] Collections of her photographs were published as One Time, One Place (1971) and Photographs (1989). Her photography was the basis for several of her short stories, including "Why I Live at the P.O.", which was inspired by a woman she photographed ironing in the back of a small post office. Although focused on her writing, Welty continued to take photographs until the 1950s.[22]

Writing career and major works

Welty is presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter in 1980

Welty's first short story, "Death of a Traveling Salesman", was published in 1936. Her work attracted the attention of author Katherine Anne Porter, who became a mentor to her and wrote the foreword to Welty's first collection of short stories, A Curtain of Green, in 1941. The book established Welty as one of American literature's leading lights, and featured the stories "Why I Live at the P.O.", "Petrified Man", and the frequently anthologized "A Worn Path". Excited by the printing of Welty's works in publications such as The Atlantic Monthly, the Junior League of Jackson, of which Welty was a member, requested permission from the publishers to reprint some of her works. She eventually published over forty short stories, five novels, three works of non-fiction, and one children's book.

The short story "Why I Live at the P.O." was published in 1941, with two others, by The Atlantic Monthly.[23] It was republished later that year in Welty's first collection of short stories, A Curtain of Green. The story is about Sister and how she becomes estranged from her family and ends up living at the post office where she works. Seen by critics as quality Southern literature, the story comically captures family relationships. Like most of her short stories, Welty masterfully captures Southern idiom and places importance on location and customs.[24] "A Worn Path" was also published in The Atlantic Monthly and A Curtain of Green. It is seen as one of Welty's finest short stories, winning the second-place O. Henry Award in 1941.[25]

Welty's debut novel, The Robber Bridegroom (1942), deviated from her previous psychologically inclined works, presenting static, fairy-tale characters. Some critics suggest that she worried about "encroaching on the turf of the male literary giant to the north of her in Oxford, Mississippi—William Faulkner",[26] and therefore wrote in a fairy-tale style instead of a historical one. Most critics and readers saw it as a modern Southern fairy-tale and noted that it employs themes and characters reminiscent of the Grimm Brothers' works.[27]

Immediately after the murder of Medgar Evers in 1963, Welty wrote Where Is the Voice Coming From?. As she later said, she wondered: "Whoever the murderer is, I know him: not his identity, but his coming about, in this time and place. That is, I ought to have learned by now, from here, what such a man, intent on such a deed, had going on in his mind. I wrote his story—my fiction—in the first person: about that character's point of view".[28] Welty's story was published in The New Yorker soon after Byron De La Beckwith's arrest.

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, The Optimist's Daughter (1972) is believed by some to be Welty's best novel. It was written at a much later date than the bulk of her work. As poet Howard Moss wrote in The New York Times, the book is "a miracle of compression, the kind of book, small in scope but profound in its implications, that rewards a lifetime of work". The plot focuses on family struggles when the daughter and the second wife of a judge confront each other in the limited confines of a hospital room while the judge undergoes eye surgery.

Welty gave a series of addresses at Harvard University, revised and published as One Writer's Beginnings (Harvard, 1983). It was the first book published by Harvard University Press to be a New York Times Best Seller (at least 32 weeks on the list), and runner-up for the 1984 National Book Award for Nonfiction.[16][29]

In 1992, she was awarded the Rea Award for the Short Story for her lifetime contributions to the American short story. Welty was a charter member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, founded in 1987. She also taught creative writing at colleges and in workshops. She lived near Jackson's Belhaven College and was a common sight among the people of her home town.

Welty personally influenced several young Mississippi writers in their careers including Richard Ford,[30][31] Ellen Gilchrist,[32] and Elizabeth Spencer.[33]


Welty was a prolific writer who created stories in multiple genres. Throughout her writing are the recurring themes of the paradox of human relationships, the importance of place (a recurring theme in most Southern writing), and the importance of mythological influences that help shape the theme.[citation needed]

Welty said that her interest in the relationships between individuals and their communities stemmed from her natural abilities as an observer.[34] Perhaps the best examples can be found within the short stories in A Curtain of Green. "Why I Live at the P.O." comically illustrates the conflict between Sister and her immediate community, her family. This particular story uses lack of proper communication to highlight the underlying theme of the paradox of human connection. Another example is Miss Eckhart of The Golden Apples, who is considered an outsider in her town. Welty shows that this piano teacher's independent lifestyle allows her to follow her passions, but also highlights Miss Eckhart's longing to start a family and to be seen by the community as someone who belongs in Morgana.[5] Her stories are often characterized by the struggle to retain identity while keeping community relationships.

Place is vitally important to Welty. She believed that place is what makes fiction seem real, because with place come customs, feelings, and associations. Place answers the questions, "What happened? Who's here? Who's coming?" Place is a prompt to memory; thus the human mind is what makes place significant. This is the job of the storyteller. “A Worn Path” is one short story that proves how place shapes how a story is perceived. Within the tale, the main character, Phoenix, must fight to overcome the barriers within the vividly described Southern landscape as she makes her trek to the nearest town. "The Wide Net" is another of Welty's short stories that uses place to define mood and plot. The river in the story is viewed differently by each character. Some see it as a food source, others see it as deadly, and some see it as a sign that "the outside world is full of endurance".[35]

Welty is noted for using mythology to connect her specific characters and locations to universal truths and themes. Examples can be found within the short story "A Worn Path", the novel Delta Wedding, and the collection of short stories The Golden Apples. In "A Worn Path", the character Phoenix has much in common with the mythical bird. Phoenixes are said to be red and gold and are known for their endurance and dignity. Phoenix, the old Black woman, is described as being clad in a red handkerchief with undertones of gold and is noble and enduring in her difficult quest for the medicine to save her grandson. In "Death of a Traveling Salesman", the husband is given characteristics common to Prometheus. He comes home after bringing fire to his boss and is full of male libido and physical strength. Welty also refers to the figure of Medusa, who in "Petrified Man" and other stories is used to represent powerful or vulgar women.

Locations can also allude to mythology, as Welty proves in her novel Delta Wedding. As Professor Veronica Makowsky from the University of Connecticut writes, the setting of the Mississippi Delta has "suggestions of the goddess of love, Aphrodite or Venus-shells like that upon which Venus rose from the sea and female genitalia, as in the mound of Venus and Delta of Venus".[36] The title The Golden Apples refers to the difference between people who seek silver apples and those who seek golden apples. It is drawn from W. B. Yeats' poem "The Song of Wandering Aengus", which ends "The silver apples of the moon, The golden apples of the sun". It also refers to myths of a golden apple being awarded after a contest. Welty used the symbol to illuminate the two types of attitudes her characters could take about life.[37]




Welty's headstone at Greenwood Cemetery in Jackson, Mississippi



Short story collections






Short stories

Title Publication Collected in
"Death of a Traveling Salesman" Manuscript (May 1936) A Curtain of Green
"The Doll" The Tanager (June 1936) -
"Lily Daw and the Three Ladies" Prairie Schooner (Winter 1937) A Curtain of Green
"Retreat" River (March 1937) -
"A Piece of News" The Southern Review (Summer 1937) A Curtain of Green
"Flowers for Marjorie" Prairie Schooner (Summer 1937)
"A Memory" The Southern Review (Fall 1937)
"Old Mr. Marblehall"
a.k.a. "Old Mr. Grenada"
The Southern Review (Spring 1938)
"The Whistle" Prairie Schooner (Fall 1938)
"A Curtain of Green" The Southern Review (Fall 1938)
"Magic" Manuscript (September 1938) -
"Petrified Man" The Southern Review (Spring 1939) A Curtain of Green
"The Hitch-Hikers" The Southern Review (Fall 1939)
"Keela, the Outcast Indian Maiden" New Directions in Prose & Poetry (1940)
"A Worn Path" The Atlantic (February 1941)
"Why I Live at the P.O." The Atlantic (April 1941)
"A Visit of Charity" Decision, A Review of Free Culture (June 1941)
"Powerhouse" The Atlantic (June 1941)
"Clytie" The Southern Review (Summer 1941)
"The Key" Harper's Bazaar (August 1941)
"The Purple Hat" Harper's Bazaar (November 1941) The Wide Net and Other Stories
"First Love" Harper's Bazaar (February 1942)
"A Still Moment" American Prefaces (Spring 1942)
"The Wide Net" Harper's Magazine (May 1942)
"The Winds" Harper's Bazaar (August 1942)
"Asphodel" The Yale Review (September 1942)
"Livvie" a.k.a. "Livvie Is Back" The Atlantic Monthly (November 1942)
"At the Landing" Tomorrow (April 1943)
"A Sketching Trip" The Atlantic (June 1945) -
"The Whole World Knows" Harper's Bazaar (March 1947) The Golden Apples
"Hello and Good-Bye" The Atlantic (July 1947) -
"June Recital"
a.k.a. "Golden Apples"
Harper's Bazaar (September 1947) The Golden Apples
"Shower of Gold" The Atlantic (May 1948)
"Music from Spain" Music From Spain, pub. June 1948
"The Wanderers"
a.k.a. "The Hummingbirds"
Harper's Bazaar (March 1949)
"Sir Rabbit" The Hudson Review (Spring 1949)
"Moon Lake" The Sewanee Review (Summer 1949)
"Circe" a.k.a. "Put Me in the Sky!" Accent (Fall 1949) The Bride of the Innisfallen and Other Stories
"The Burning" Harper's Bazaar (March 1951)
"The Bride of the Innisfallen" The New Yorker (December 1, 1951)
"No Place for You, My Love" The New Yorker (September 20, 1952)
"Kin" The New Yorker (November 15, 1952)
"Ladies in Spring" a.k.a. "Spring" The Sewanee Review (Winter 1954)
"Going to Naples" Harper's Bazaar (July 1954)
"Where Is the Voice Coming From?" The New Yorker (July 6, 1963) The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty
"The Demonstrators" The New Yorker (November 26, 1966)
"Acrobats in a Park" Delta (November 1977) -

See also



  1. ^ Welty's Collected Works won the 1983 award for paperback Fiction. From 1980 to 1983 in National Book Awards history there were dual hardcover and paperback awards in most categories. Most of the paperback award-winners were reprints, including this one.




  1. ^ "Eudora Welty Biography Archived September 21, 2016, at the Wayback Machine". Retrieved November 28, 2011.
  2. ^ "Opinion How I 'bribed' a justice to take a no-expenses-paid trip to Mississippi". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 10, 2023.
  3. ^ "Property".
  4. ^ Welty, p. 841
  5. ^ a b c d e f Johnston, Carol Ann. "Mississippi Writer's Page: Eudora Welty Archived October 1, 2015, at the Wayback Machine". MWP: University of Mississippi. Retrieved November 28, 2011.
  6. ^ Fowler, Sarah (May 1, 2015). "Central High School Class of '65 celebrates reunion". The Clarion-Ledger. Retrieved November 18, 2019.
  7. ^ "House Archived October 5, 2011, at the Wayback Machine". Eudora Welty Foundation. Retrieved November 28, 2011.
  8. ^ Makowsky, pp. 341–342
  9. ^ See for example, Jackson Society Revels in Splendor Attached to Natchez Garden Ball. The Commercial Appeal 03 Sep 1933, Sun · Page 8.
  10. ^ Marrs, p. 52
  11. ^ Marrs, p. 50
  12. ^ a b "House Archived March 15, 2011, at the Wayback Machine". Eudora Welty Foundation. Retrieved November 28, 2011.
  13. ^ Messud, Claire (July 25, 2001). "Obituary: Eudora Welty". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved November 2, 2019.
  14. ^ Makowsky, p. 342
  15. ^ a b "Fiction". Past winners & finalists by category. The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2013-11-19.
  16. ^ a b c "Welty Book is First Harvard U. Best Seller", Edwin McDowell, The New York Times, March 13, 1984, page C16.
  17. ^ Makowsky, p. 341
  18. ^ Resting Places
  19. ^ Louis Bayard (2015) Review: Eudora Welty and Ross Macdonald, Conjoined by a Torrent of Words, The New York Times JULY 13, 2015, accessed 14 April 2016
  20. ^ Welty, Eudora; Macdonald, Ross (2015). Marrs, Suzanne; Nolan, Tom (eds.). Meanwhile There Are Letters: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and Ross Macdonald. New York: Arcade. ISBN 978-1-62872-527-8.
  21. ^ T.A. Frail, "Eudora Welty as Photographer", Smithsonian magazine, April 2009. Retrieved 20 May 2013.
  22. ^ Rosenberg, Karen (January 14, 2009). "Eudora Welty's work as a young writer: Taking pictures". The New York Times. Retrieved May 26, 2009.
  23. ^ Marrs, p. 70
  24. ^ Hauser, Marianne. (November 16, 1941.) "A Curtain of Green". The New York Times. Retrieved November 28, 2011.
  25. ^ Makowsky, p. 345
  26. ^ Makowsky, p. 347
  27. ^ Hauser, Marianne. (November 1, 1942.) "Miss Welty's Fairy Tale". The New York Times. Retrieved November 28, 2011.
  28. ^ Welty, p. xi
  29. ^ "Three Writers Win Book Awards", The New York Times, November 16, 1984, page C32.
  30. ^ Waldron, Ann (1998). Eudora Welty: A Writer's Life. Knopf Doubleday Publishing. pp. 2–5. ISBN 9780307773883.
  31. ^ Adams, Tim (October 25, 2007). "Interview with Richard Ford". Granta. Retrieved August 15, 2018.
  32. ^ Walrdon, Ann (1998). Eudrora Welty: A Writer's Life. Knopf Doubleday Publishing. p. 277. ISBN 9780307773883.
  33. ^ Waldron, Ann (1998). Eudora Welty: A Writer's Life. Knopf Doubleday Publishing. pp. 134–145, 255, 216, 277. ISBN 9780307773883.
  34. ^ Welty, p. 862
  35. ^ Welty, p. 220
  36. ^ Makowsky, p. 349
  37. ^ Makowsky, p. 350
  38. ^ a b Dawidoff, Nicholas. (August 10, 1995.) "At Home with Eudora Welty: Only the Typewriter Is Silent". The New York Times. Retrieved November 28, 2011.
  39. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter W" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 24, 2014.
  40. ^ "Macdowell Medalists". Retrieved August 22, 2022.
  41. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on November 17, 2016. Retrieved May 12, 2015.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  42. ^ "National Book Awards – 1983". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-01-26.
    (With essay by Robin Black from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.)
  43. ^ "Saint Louis Literary Award - Saint Louis University". Archived from the original on August 23, 2016. Retrieved March 28, 2018.
  44. ^ Saint Louis University Library Associates. "Recipients of the Saint Louis Literary Award". Archived from the original on July 31, 2016. Retrieved July 25, 2016.
  45. ^ "Honorary degree recipients". William & Mary Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center. September 25, 2020. Retrieved March 3, 2024.
  46. ^ "Lifetime Honors: National Medal of Arts". July 21, 2011. Archived from the original on July 21, 2011. Retrieved February 15, 2021.
  47. ^ "Distinguished Contribution to American Letters". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-11.
    (With acceptance speech by Welty.)
  48. ^ a b Marrs, p. 547
  49. ^ Dana Sterling, "Welty reads to audience at Helmerich award dinner", Tulsa World, December 7, 1991.
  50. ^ a b c d Marrs, p. 549
  51. ^ "Charles Frankel Prize". National Endowment for the Humanities. Retrieved July 19, 2023.
  52. ^ National Women's Hall of Fame, Eudora Welty
  53. ^ "Historical Backgrounder Archived November 8, 2002, at the Wayback Machine". Retrieved November 28, 2011.
  54. ^ Thomas, Jo (January 21, 1997). "For Inventor of Eudora, Great Fame, No Fortune". The New York Times. Retrieved August 10, 2014.
  55. ^ "[1] Archived October 20, 2014, at the Wayback Machine". Mississippi Writers and Musicians, Retrieved March 17, 2012
  56. ^ "Eudora Welty Writers' Symposium" Mississippi University for Women. Retrieved November 28, 2011.
  57. ^ "Eudora Alice Welty". National Portrait Gallery. Smithsonian Institution.
  58. ^ "Eudora Welty gets first marker on Mississippi Writers Trail". The Clarion Ledger. Retrieved June 16, 2020.
  59. ^ Adapted by Alice Parker into a two-act opera which premiered in Jackson, Mississippi in September 1982. The performance was reviewed by Edward Rothstein of The New York Times.


  • Ford, Richard, and Michael Kreyling, eds. Welty: Stories, Collections, & Memoir. New York: Penguin Putnam Inc., 1998. Print.
  • Makowsky, Veronica. Eudora Welty. American Writers. Ed. Stephen Wagley. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1998. 343–356. Print.
  • Marrs, Suzanne. Eudora Welty: A Biography. Orlando: Harcourt, Inc., 2005. Print. 50–52.
  • Welty, Eudora. The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1980. ISBN 978-0-15-618921-7.

Further reading




Writings on