A Conversation With; Eudora Welty
A conversation with you Dora Welty talking with novelist and writer Eudora Welty today is Mr. Frank Haynes arts editor of The Jackson Daily News.
Of all the words which have been written about who are wealthy and I think are more beautiful than these by the great dancer Martha Graham. These dark days she said it is all the clearer that her novels and stories are a national treasure. We must guard it zealously for such a glory as Eudora does not often come to look at us to study us and sing about us. Here now is the source of that national treasure the author of losing battles the Ponder heart. Delta wedding bride of the unit's Fallon curtain of green as so many others miss Eudora Welty come for a change to let us look at her study her and hopefully not to sing about it. Thank you for coming in. Very nice to be here and a lot of Graham of course is not the first person to speak of your singing. Life magazine referred to losing battles as Mozart in music often this reference to musicality in your work is made Are you conscious of singing.
No not at all. No no relation I can see to that is it. I believe no shot stories have lyrics which is where a song comes from I think the impulse is to. Priceless and I was what I was saying can be said to do. I do think they have the same sauce of course I don't even know.
No music has been any of your life.
We shot took one house a little girl and I love music but I'm not knowledgeable about it.
I guess your favorite story with any musician and I'm not of yours is powerhouse it so often referred to as being music. In that song how did powerhouse come about.
Well I went. I've always loved Fats Waller and his music not played his records a lot. He gave a concert in Jackson and I went I had no idea I was going to write a story of course I wouldn't have dared if I'd been in my right mind. And when I came home I wrote the story while I was still so wound up from hearing it. But actually I don't think I wasn't consciously writing about writing it about. I'm a musician as such and certainly not as a black which many people think that it's a rice star I mean a story about. I was writing it about an artist the beating of an artist travelling about and the Gulf that is between his work and the people who come and how they bridge across that adult bridge across it. He just came home that night and yeah I wrote it all that light and I thought I knew better than try to touch it the next day it either had to be a story I'm not because I act in the light of reason. I would've been able to revise it to revise much as a rule or yeah I'm a big reviser lout when I first began. It didn't occur to me that you could probably improve something a whole lot of people. Worked at it. I was inclined to leave things as they were and go to the next story.
When you were grew up in Jackson when I was small it was it like being a girl in Jackson in the 1920s and 30s it was nice and Jackson was a little town I guess and that was when I went to Davis who won nearly everybody my age and great went because that was only school at least in this part of Jackson we all knew HL and played together in a still friend.
Most of my classmates how important to a writer is the place in which he goes I think to me it's terribly important because it's right to speak for himself some people. That is an important thing. But to me it defines that. It's the it's what is the by Andrea the story it shows it explains why these people of Blair and explains the origins and really defines their actions in a large way which I think can be true especially in the south.
So much of your work is set in rural Mississippi.
How did you get acquainted with that particularly I wasn't too quiet with it but I really did it I suppose it was instinct to narrow my states down simplify life and sort of have been Baba six people of a certain kind of town there be only one. I was just simplifying on my own. Abilities I've seen little towns but I did know them too well.
Everything I've read about you always mentions during the 30s your work with the WPA traveling around Mississippi. And exactly what did you do with it maybe you better tell the young people what the WPA was.
Maybe sell out what it is stand by work work on the US administration and I was last taken job out in labor. I never would have thought I could and I had no experience and was cowed Ginia published agent. That meant that I was a guard seeing a publish date it was a my and we traveled it was a state office and we traveled all over the state looking at people working on projects and writing them up in a van papal road work goes black on waivers all kinds of people like that juvenile court judges failed opener's old ladies writing history is the churchyards everybody and object was to try to get news stories about them in the paper it was a great I opened up to me and just gave me a complete when I was just introduced into Mississippi. I've never seen any of it.
Well was this when you became interested in photography.
Yeah. It was I guess I can't I don't think I use any of my pictures in the P.I. but I may have forgotten. I just kept taking pictures along the way and there is now to be a book of your photographs.
Yes is going to be a book of a collection like and then not because they are great photographs because they are strictly Amatil and not very good but the subject matter through the ship passage of time has become interesting as a record I think most of these are from the thirties.
Oh yeah the late thirties of the early fall of it and mostly in Jackson and now they're from all around the country. Out in the country most of them. Is there a title for the book in what are called I don't know if it'll get back as well. One time one place because it defines it.
And you would write captions.
Yes my adult to say that I've been all tight lipped about those he said most I'm just slightly Hinds County. I wrote an introduction to simpler to run what I why I was presuming make a book out I'm just explaining really what they were let down. They have been shown locally but not as not as another complete collection really know the complete collection never was I guess there were one shown in New York when I first took on the New York hoping that of someone some publisher would be entered in the stories that they might be slowly persuaded to look at my stories which I was trying to sell but it didn't work.
I want to just tell you for a story and I think on 30 I don't think you know a lot of my guessing and I know house name and this story was the death of a traveling salesman which predated Arthur Miller's Death and so was my quite a long time in that I wonder if you ever read your story a lot that if you have an artifact.
As being a photo book what other works are in progress at the moment or publications coming up.
Well at the time I at the time I published losing battles I had a lot of work that I had written both during that and since then but I wanted to publish the novel first because it had been. I've been at it such a long time and I wanted to clear the decks So once that's out of my they'll be a book of short stories which are most any time I write one of them alive and a book of nonfiction.
Oh you know essays and critical words and someone just reporting things someone did during the day. You know what I wrote at the time.
I know that writers as a rule hate to I think writers in general hate to talk about how they they work. What can you tell us about the way you in which you work.
Well I can tell you pretty well by Mao but of course each writer is different I don't think it signifies a thing but the way I work with a short story which is my natural something is I'm about to have been building up in my mind a long time on some. Personal Feeling my reaction to something. But it's just the way our thoughts and everybody's mind about things and all of the sudden I see something in the living world that will dramatize it by me just as if I think you had come out of the wings of my mind and there was a stage already everything was already far right and so then everything just pause and to the. End of the cast of characters it is subtle and I start and then everything that I can write it quickly. But I couldn't make it up. I said always after a long period of thinking without reading it knowing what a bomb it will tell you when you look back on every story and remember oh well who the character was who came out of the wings or what that particular thing was what it's easy and some of them especially the earliest There is one thing for a much simpler me. One case like that was in a little story called A warn pad another little story which is anthologized in every Well I like to star and I think that's why it sticks in my mind but I had already been thinking about how people have some kind of drive obsession or dream of something you know most just in a sort of general way I suppose I had to myself when I was sitting out. And the country was a friend of mine. He was painting and I was just sitting there reading and I saw in the distance the middle distance a figure of an old woman just emerging slowly across a field right in front of me just a little sessional began habited Slayer talk. I mean never did top billing but she does seem the embodiment of what I was thinking as if she were bent on some driving around it when she would know a big to someone else and the whole thing all came clear to me just just like a picture side is my home and wrote the story but it wouldn't have happened if I had just seen her with no. No feelings that I was having at that.
I think that people are fascinated to know how these stories that they know so well began like well why live at the B.O. one of your most popular stories. Where did it.
Well that's pretty easy because. Another thing I love to listen to all the time and hear people talking and I did it even as a little girl my mother said I used to sit out between her and all the ladies in Slate now talk and I was thinking about the speech patterns and especially and sell them. I am myself.
And especially in remote isolated places how we all make out I won't tell you much about dramatize ing us Laos and so on I was thinking about that and I went into a little post office to Miles something I looked through the window and there was an iron and board back there. I thought somebody has moved to the post office. So then I started hearing all these reasons why just you know everything went together. Seth grabbed a citation that they were just wrote itself at that.
Problem is of course a very very funny story in fact. One reviewer I read recently said Eudora Welty possesses the surest comedic touch of any writer in America today or something to that effect. So how consciously do you work for comedy is that.
Oh I work for everything very consciously because it's. You know it's hard I mean. I think comedy is probably the hardest thing to do because it has to be so concentrated and pure and nothing coming the way out of this single thing you know focusing on I think it's much harder and also much more fun to write comedy than anything else.
Speaking of reviewers I have a quote here from Jack Kroll of Newsweek in reference to losing battles. It's sad to reflect that not many people under 30 will read this book. The act of reading is not central to the youthful sensibilities of our age which are forgotten that this act the act of reading is the original the true psychedelic experience. How do you feel about that our young people reading your works do you think.
I've had letters from young people telling me that they are young people and that they're reading my books and that they like them which I must say set me up because that's something you know even now a cough and I was proud of the fact they did and now let us I'm all around the country everywhere there.
So you don't agree with the popularly held belief that the novel was dying in the womb.
Oh I can't believe another would see it would change its bomb as it always has but I think as long as there are readers. And I can't imagine life without people raving I think of being nobbled because what it actually is is it's a reflection of our life. And as long as we're living you don't know without seeking some reflection of it.
Different BOMs about it I think the only unfavorable comment I read on among the glowing reviews of losing battles was from Christopher Lehmann-Haupt who said something to the effect that this is one of those masterpieces which is going to be put on the shelf and never read at you about that when I was my it is quite well the quote of the masterpiece than your own.
Yeah but I just made it worse. No of course I was sad to read that.
Do you pay much attention to reviewers.
I'm always interested in what people like you they like can't have any up but because about by that the work has long since done. Of course you care what people think. Have you ever been influenced in a later work by anything that someone said when you know I can be quite sure of not because when I'm working I'm not conscious of any anything with the star and I'm what anyone had to say at all. I think they'll be paralyzing.
The river every year of course I think is exists only for the reader and not for the person whose work he's reviewing. I don't think he can teach the writer anything and he is hoping of teaching you you know while you work a lot I know with the students. Do you think it's possible to teach anybody to write.
No no I don't think you can because it's an interior process you can teach people to fail to think I think that it is possible to give a student a sounding board an audience you know the other end of the story when it comes out the other end is like a great plaything of being at a loss if you think no one's going to read it. I mean if you write a story and and no readers come along it's in a vacuum really and does provide the student with with a sounding board how does it sound and how does how does it say and I think I also think that a star really is the Bauers of an individual writer. I think everything connected with writing and waiting is partial and I think that on a star ride it's a story as the personal life of this person and I found that I ask a student to read his own story aloud and his own bars tell him a lot of things probably that other people did not just teaches him. Hearing what he has said and done.
No no this is a big question. How did you learn to write.
I don't know I just. I love to read and I wrote things that please me things I'd like to read. I never did study it but I'm not I don't know what would have happened if I had.
Is there anyone you could ever have considered it and influence it with you particular writing.
I would find it awfully hard to slice a lot. I love to read not read everything and I'm sure everything up eventually reac son your book went out. I believe in writing the story he should write from life not from literary. I mean you should. There's no rule about anything but anything that makes me want to write a story is the living world not a red book. And so although there are probably many unconscious influences I don't know of any conscious one.
What about admirations.
Who do you know I have you like what you call a something love. I have hundreds of admiration at least made a lot of speaking of admiration.
Jean Stafford said in The New York Times recently that she wrote for you Dora Catherine and Porter. Peter Doyle I believe and she mentioned about about four people later. Yes. But at any rate you know I was first.
Who do you write for. Are really right for the story but. And I don't think of myself being the writer of oh a single person in particular being the writer because I just love the work. The piece of work. When I finish it I can hardly stand it until certain friends of mine are read it to tell me what they think. And everything seems to depend on that. But but while I'm writing I must say I'm just writing. What a story. So that's what I love.
That is your greatest satisfaction in.
Nothing pleases me more than for somebody I admire to like something and I would play the grace attention if they didn't you know. But that's after it's done. And during that work I. I don't think about it.
I have been a major disappointment senior in your writing.
You mean and what I've been able to do right. I liked I've written lower but I it's not that I was prevented from it in any way. Well I mean not in any way I was prevented from it at the time I was lecturing and I'll. So I quit it because I didn't have the energy left over. After. Lecture unpleasant as it was I like being with young people and moving about. But I was NOT want to go home at night and write a story after working all day. That disappointed me but I solved it by quitting. I quit the right one I hope.
Well I don't there's any question about that.
Speaking as they were a while ago about sources of stories I'd like to get back to that I'm intrigued by how they began and I suppose would you say that the Ponder has your most popular work as far as the general audience is like the back side of the pond or heard come from how did it come out.
We sense is not a shot star it's probably more complicated. And it's and it's history. But I think it really came again from thinking about people in my part of the world how they tend to be protective of anyone who is a little different from other people or did then someone like Uncle Daniel who was quite a problem and sometimes in places would just be shuttled out to a hospital. All this solemn was something. But in this way of living everyone not only in his family but in Thailand Scrope together to try to protect him. I've known people like that and I just had that I wasn't trying to write a story about it but I've always been aware of it and just when by again I heard story about Chabad in the URL I began thinking and I just let her start out and wrote wrote on her I could have as you know I could have made it better construction I should have done that. But stars you were right but ere are hard to rebut as.
It seems to flow so naturally I would imagine that there is a book. Which came. Very very very straight and did not have a great deal of revising.
That's right it did and even though it needed it I know than I do you know what it is it's one of his greatest joy. Well that's it and you know you got enough sense not to try to heart that I mean.
And yet you think that all things should be done.
Oh yeah I'm sure you often get asked Why do you go on living in Jackson Mississippi. Well I love it here. Is it do you think you could work anywhere else.
I have worked in other places because I love to travel. This is what I love a lot being here because it's the easy easy life when they leave that home and everything. I saw him walk in while I live at the peak. Everything is chaotic out of the way I like to know what all of my friends live here a lot of them. They want to know how to get to where my other friends live where you can write.
We have people and we think people in show business know everybody else in show business and I guess we feel that way about writers too. Do you have many friends among writers.
Oh by accident I have but I know them best as friends whom I happen to write this I don't I don't know too many writers and I know lots of other kinds of people better me I think I have some good friends who are in that.
I suppose that these these are friends and you never talk about each other's work.
It never did. When I met Mr. Bott neither he nor I ever mentioned writing what he did and so of course I went on but you. Know I Don't Really I love ShopHouse I have talked to Lisbeth bell and we shopped out that's great fun. But none of the cocktail party sort of cult do I would do. I don't like any of that. When you go around and talk about oh come on cracks and they yield and I'll listen. That doesn't interest me. Have you considered doing anything in the dramatic form or as various of you things have God that is one of this promise in my life I should have thought of that first while ago. I've always wanted to and I don't know Bible Well I've tried a couple of times but not even good enough things resulted to show it to anybody and just throw it out. Well I think that was a mistake I hope somebody else is watching your ways as good when you win even though I might make a novel out of it some day you might be on safer ground but I think the drama is very close to the shot story perhaps of my almost closest Dale with its ability to shift back and forth and time and place and maybe dream sequences or something like that correspond to flashbacks of the close ups it was shifting in focus and so on which I can do is a lot like a shot's going to try to films.
I wish I could I've tried that too but never to show anyone that didn't didn't please me.
I read the other day that Bing Crosby had said he wanted for his epitaph he could carry a tune. And of course we all know the WC feels wanted for his side rather be in Philadelphia.
Have you ever thought about what you'd like to record. I couldn't care less just as long as I mentioned in his piece of pipe on my tie for out of the present moment that's enough writing.
The present is always very important in your stories I think and I always have a sense of something coming after there's always an ear and expectancy about about just good I'm pleased to hear that. Do you. They they they don't do they don't come to a path to ending the they have a lead on.
I want them to know is there that is a yes because I feel that part of the life to them because life doesn't began and I am like this is always. You should suggest I think in the show and. The show book and bring forth and reveal them a shot star not study and not declare and not criticize really just and certainly not judge.
I'm sure you would it would have to be pleased with the really enthusiastic response which losing battles got caught I guess it has been your biggest success to date as if oh yes probably the only one.
Well no. I think I once was on the best selling this with something beyond the heartland you know it certainly has totally unexpected I'm a great place you tell me I believe you told me some time back that England did not want to lose a battle so far as I know they still abound.
Isn't that strange. Can you account for that because your other works have been so popular there.
Well I don't think an alpha can ever account for whether people like something and not. Know that they don't like anything very long any more they have. They hate long winded books is less and less like Americans write books too long but it's not funny when we think of the long winded novel as being definitively English but that was a couple of years.
I don't really know why they might just plain not of liked it that was a pretty it works have been translated into many many language while the Japanese were the first people to buy a losing battle.
That that is history and the taggants about it I wonder if they if they look at these these quaint people you know who live in Mississippi as as we tend to look at people who live in Japan or whatever.
But we my if someone in France tell me once that the reason the French people live now was that all of the everything that happens in history and I was of course they were mistaken. Happens in the US and snuggling Terios which is the way they see life. Everything very intimate and so that and also a bit I guess they would say more but that isn't at all the way I look at them. But that's the way they looked at him and they said it was very much to their temperament.
How do you look at Phil want to thank you for a great outdoor job I guess are you in the indoor and outdoor writer.
Well I don't know. I think I have a pretty good deal of the world that is of a bagel mind so I like to have it in front of me. Well that and or I out that's not really what you I asking. I don't know I hope I'm not a boob Wow writer which some thought I was one.
Look why why would why did they say when you said you got to last your bedroom to write or play when I do it's when I'm writing but I don't feel that this has been a conversation with novelist and writer Eudora Welty.
We hope that he will go on writing for a long long time for than ever it is that you're writing for thank you.
And I'm glad this isn't my proposal.
Again you were awfully good to come and chat with us. Thank you. And we shall look forward to expanding on it at some other time. And.
I. Would be glad to. As I said I know it's it's always difficult for anybody to do. I mean I was like a mother talking about her children I suppose you know the way.
This transcript is machine-generated and has not been corrected. It is likely there will be errors.
- A Conversation With
- Eudora Welty
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- Mississippi Public Broadcasting (Jackson, Mississippi)
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- APA: A Conversation With; Eudora Welty. Boston, MA: Mississippi Public Broadcasting, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_60-22h70vh1