Postscripts; Eudora Welty
I never had to go out and do some research on what people would be wearing to go to in a town this size doings.
I grew up with it. I didn't have to I asked myself or anything. I knew I would. I grew up with an encyclopedic knowledge of the kind of society this is and so I could draw on it and I knew it. But if I used it.
Eudora Welty here is one of America's most distinguished writers working today in our time. She lives in Jackson Mississippi where she was born where she got her early education and where she has always chosen to live and do her writing. Her first collection of short stories appeared in 1941. It was a collection called a curtain of green and soon thereafter her second book was a Mississippi fairy tale. It's called the robber bridegroom there after she wrote more short stories several novels. And in the early 1970s one of her novels the optimist's daughter was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Since that time she has written a novel called losing battles and her most recent work which will appear very shortly is a book that is somewhat autobiographical. It is called one writer's beginnings. And in it she tells about the influences on her life and on her writing and her methods of working. She talks a great deal about her family. How are you.
Thank you. It's good to see you and it's good to be here in this very lovely yard at your home in Jackson. Thank you. You heard me mention your most recent work one writer's beginnings in that book.
You talk about you talk about members of your family a great deal.
You mentioned that your father was an avid photographer. That is an interest you inherited because later in the 1930s you worked for the WPA the Works Progress Administration and took a number of photographs which have appeared in a book of yours called one time one place I would like for you to tell a little bit about the influence that your photographs have had on the book you have just completed.
And I imagine the joy that you felt in going through those photographs.
You're right about the John a lot of it. It was a matter of getting acquainted with some things I didn't know that the photographs could have helped me but I went back to the photographs after I had written the book because they asked me at Harvard University Press is bringing them out and they said they would like to have some family photographs to appear in it. And I went because I have seen these pictures lots of times.
But I went back to look at them and it was so strange it was like a verification of some evidence. You know through my memory. That's right. That with their And it kind of hit me much more if I had the wit to go back and look.
Tell me a little bit about about what you enjoyed reading when you were of age and before you answer that I want to.
Remind you that you and I once in a conversation talking about the Jackson library and who would be rather strict about what she allowed. Children to check out of the library and said you told me once that your mother said I'm what. Saying is let you Doris check out any book she wants to eat. He did good for MS as well.
What sorts of things did you like to read I want to read everything. You know there was a children's department Yes and there was no poet and sticking to that. And my mother's idea was that nothing could do me any harm if I didn't understand it all right.
My dad she did make one exception then small the books were not to be allowed because they were so sentimental so sentimental and sticky sweet and that's interesting because magine in most homes where there was a daughter growing up there was that they probably one mother said they had to practice the piano so many long hours.
And on father's wish if you file and write it and the pianist and my mother said I know you you'd be practicing and you'd first thing we know you have you might have done that to get out of practice and maybe else you didn't do that to get out of practicing else it was I never did read them.
Well I don't know I don't know about that. What sorts of things did you like to do and what were your activities for you.
You know when I was a teenager we were all pretty young as teenagers we don't do it. Teenage just because we had parties where you played games most lay an ice cream and cake to eat and we had with a great reception was when we were graduating. Did you come in on that. No you know I know where you went to reception my ask a reception was held right here on this yard the house wasn't finished yet but we had it outdoors and now and then we had a punch table right about where I'm sitting now and that's for just sort of cleared away to build a house that will be used for receptions where a boy and girl students. Well yeah but then with that we had evening parties that go on and we had parties that shout aloud let your member out on the terror ride sort of through a grate on his. But my class in high school was the one that came the year they added the extra grade on to the high scale until we came along. They had seven grades and and public school grammar school and no. 3 Yeah and and high school making a level and so they weren't going to have a graduating class one year but they picked out 30 students from North Jackson and 30 students from West Jackson and made a class of 60 and we were the graduating class of 25.
Did you feel the necessity of working at other jobs until you until you began to make a living from writing day and I'll throughout my writing.
My father was wise enough to tell me when I said I wanted to be a writer when I was still in college he thought that would be fine but I must find some way to earn a living I did not want to teach. So I went to uni you know to Columbia School of Business and studied business and advertising. To get a job.
That happened at the moment of the Great Depression when driving and it wasn't advertised so I came back to Jackson and got jobs and related things like newspapers and press.
I know that you worked at a little today. Again I work. But Deborah JDSU order a local radio station. Did you also work with a local newspaper.
I did some spice write things you know in the Daily News and I did something for the Commercial Appeal You know I just I worked. Look for pennies and dollars I mean that was all right in the Depression but surely surely anything you could set your mind to and then also just got jobs.
And at that time during the 1930s the years of the Depression you were writing I was writing and sending to the small magazine so-called small magazines the university chordal those and things and other things too always something black.
But that was that was the way that I was trying to do two lives at once and it made it beautiful.
You have prompted a question that I wanted to ask you sent them to other magazines the more commercial magazines that in those days existed and published a lot of things and they sent them back. So you have known the terrible feeling of opening an envelope and buying a resurgence lets them catch the name.
If I had been so young and also I had the idea which is probably correct and they are probably right you know that that they would always say we like this but its not. Put it all behind us now going to try again. They were probably exactly right. Thats one way to find out.
But it was never so harsh that it killed your spirit and your knowledge to keep on writing.
Right you don't know what you might have done but I still think I keep on writing if I had an episode anything but. But you can't say that or you don't know.
Did you share those moments with your family members and did they encourage you to keep on writing.
They encourage me I don't like to show them but I think I would have gone away and shrank from mom. The reason I sent them all really was that it was someone to show them too that I didn't know and who didn't know me would be completely impersonal and someone who was professionally looking for work and would tell you if it was good or not. It was like handing things then to the teacher to getting a grade.
Do you follow a regular schedule of say going to your typewriter at 8 o'clock in the morning and writing to the new in the way the for instance.
No I never do. The waitress that I did write that story as you describe it it was about BET's Wyler but that was unique because most stories I write are the result of a build up of personal experience emotions of something and the trying to find a bar to appear in and of till I get some dramatic idea in which I can translate my feelings and do fictional characters and fictional situation that. X them out like a plague. So it's not a name it's a character. Several characters I may be all the characters and some of them but that's of a build up as I say and it may have been I may have been brooding on something for a long time and then it finds a bomb. But this thing was one that I had no idea when I was listening to it I was going to come home and do it I would have been appalled at myself I couldn't have done it because I don't even know a thing about it it's what it was just a reaction to a personality reality. Yeah a lot of the debate of the music I was familiar with his music that's was music that I never seen him. But you came home and you must've started about midnight right on through the night and I knew that I couldn't when in a sense trying to improve it the next day when I was back in my senses. But a lot didn't know enough to improve it so I just left it. But it's a very gentle the way it's like it too it was amazing to go.
To to use a phrase that the critics use about about how awful things it is a compulsively readable I think it's almost impossible to stay dark reading that without going straight on through a fairly short and you know you route but when it was compulsive writing when you. When the emotions do build up and then you go and begin writing.
To what extent do you revise and tell me a little bit about how you revise I revise a lot because I like to write a first draft that is headline you know when I'm full of what I'm trying to say and it is possible and it used to be possible with a shot of steroids to do it all in one one sitting. I can't do that with a long list oh no but then I revised Cohen what I'm aiming at. You know I see that I've got excess stuff and there are I've gone up on trials perhaps and in a sentence you know that leads you to the wrong place that thing is to share away all these things and I'll go and do it with scissors. Physically to the manuscript and I'm. Also I tried transposing things that way. I often give away everything in the beginning out of slate for the day. Oh I see what it I'll take it on.
Not that simple but you know you actually take scissors and cut out a paragraph here in a paragraph and it's quick. I thought you meant that that you edited down by throwing away some paragraphs but when you know real English things.
I don't really if they're on the way up turned upside down. Put them on us. Files are on hold until I think I'm through and then I rearrange then I pin everything together. A concert working on a newspaper you know where you wherever you are in the makeup of you spoken and so then you can look at a story and allow strip like wild playful when you cut out a paragraph and transpose it to someplace else.
Does that does that not damage the path your story.
It makes that battle because if you put the most important thing for a switch you tend to do you know it's belongs in there. But you have to find out the stage at which it should come it's just like taking a trip you know you're going to Canton and Memphis and Chicago and New albums which are often for you. It's not that simple. What I mean but you are the chronology and someone has to be very careful you know and the structure has to be much more. Explicit end and Sabir then the first dry up there what you're doing is getting at most of what it all baby. Or you think I will even think of a way you could do this better by having an encounter at a different time you know than where you have it now. Let these characters meet now to the reader already knows that such and such a thing exists then it is more significant and others like your writing of course some people have so much more sense about writing about that what they're doing that would have to go through these things.
No but I actually think that would give you increased pleasure. Oh you're right but one thing it sort of gives you surprises said Reza does the reader.
It's wonderful now. I really love it. It's like telling yourself a star and correcting itself at the same time. Yeah. Some like him CEO working and saying No who would never have thought that Uncle Daniel would do that at this point in the story. I'm not recommending it to any of you and I wouldn't say what you want to be writers I don't mean that that's a. I'm on your way out of it it's just what happened in my case. Everyone has to find his own way among your friends who are writers.
Has anyone of them ever said that he or she uses that same method with the scissors.
I've never heard anyone but I'm not a. No I don't know that's your secret.
I have heard you talk about the need for a writer to have a definite point of view when he or she sets out to begin writing.
I've never heard you talk about a style you don't seem to think of your style as being the well-to style and that it infects all of your stories all aspects all of your stories on the shelf stare right up I feel that style belongs to that particular star it's an wrench and it's the one we were just talking about powerhouse.
I was writing that from the point of view perhaps of an audience listening to a jazz player that would not apply to any other story that I've written that I can think of but I think the point of view. Comes to you as one with the idea of the story because it's like the source of the origin it stems from a part of you.
You don't use a word processor. I just don't even know what when you use an old fashioned typewriter. Yes and I always have.
Have you made a concession to modern day living by using an electric typewriter or is it a manual it out to be a manual but I bought an electric typewriter because my hand was one of my hands was bothering me and the doctor told me I should not type all day out. Man you're missing my electric typewriter. It has the upper hand.
Oh well maybe you know sometimes it does things but it does I seem to make far more mistakes on the later typewriter than I do on a night out and then it white Sanya is lower Moto going and so you can't think because it's going.
But anyway it's a typewriter but I didn't mean to get sidetracked onto the question of of your time as a typewriter.
Just if you will just talk a little bit about how you get an idea and how you proceed to put it down there.
Well I don't stop to write any story and I don't write every day for instance I don't write at all unless I have a story to write. And I've always thought about that a good long while before it's taken the right bomb as I was telling you early on but then I like to start work always start early in the morning when the brain is Claris in my case and it used to be I could work all day long without a stop except eat. But now I can't I get tired in the afternoon and early in the morning you say what is early do you do you start at sun up what you thought at nine o'clock oh oh as soon as I've had some coffee. Usually in the summertime I start quite early 7:00 8:00 o'clock. You know when it has to be light I think anything you wrote in the dark might be suspect. I can't write at night I'm tired and that's when I read I like to see my friends. And so I keep writing every day usually until I get the story done without taking days I'll be I mean it doesn't occur to me to do that. I think if I were tired out.
Thanks for the good of the story and lay off a day or so but you do accomplish it.
First draft and then began and then was yes and you can do that Malaysia and I love to do that because it's not pressing on you then you know to write it. Write it the way it is on a first draft. If you didn't know was this dialogue by Paul so you can work at it and stores like me among them oh and sometimes that I can write one in two or three days just depends on the story or if it's a powerhouse onto with reality else until 3am.
You mentioned earlier.
When we were talking that you indicated you were not quite you had forgotten which book appeared first. The optimist losing battles and you said oh I forget the author of those books because I was working on both of them at the same time. Does that happen often.
Well you know and I almost never does it. It happened then because of the circumstances I was not able to get the time to work on a new thing. And so what I did was make notes and notes and notes and instead of going back and revising things I just put everything into a tin box because I couldn't go back until after I finished Optimus daughter which I wrote rather biased although I waited a year to publish it and retype it which I think did some gave it some benefit.
When you were a retightening do you revise.
I can't help but in time are in a time I retired. I think it's a biling you don't know when it's right because the optimist daughter is a considerably shorter novel than losing battles.
Yes I've heard of a span and I still think it is a long story because it almost does run straight through and out.
You mean the optimist out and it does indeed and of course it appeared as well as as you said earlier it appeared in one issue and as a magazine I wrote it the way I write it shuts down but I think the question that had occurred to me when you are in the process of working on one book like one writer's beginnings would you have been working on for some time now while you were working on that. DO occur to you that have no place in the book youre currently working on and you make a note and set them aside and think I'll write this later.
You're partly right but I don't know if it would happen in the case of a story. Fiction is my natural mom and it kept trying to push through this piece of nonfiction I was doing but had it been a story I don't think another story could have pushed Dan I don't know. But I've never had that happen and when it starts we stand out. And I can thank god for that.
Even though you say you don't feel compelled to write every day you do seem to have a kind of motivating directness you want to move forward with one story.
I do and it does stay with you all the time you're not writing in all kinds of things.
When you when you're going to get Nicole Kayhan and parks you see somebody walking across a parking lot a stranger probably and maybe not you think that's the well my character has now what does it look like you know it's always with always with you everything refers to what you're writing. And that's fine.
That's Here is a question that I think will be of interest to the audience. Are there any characters in your stories or in your novels that you consider to have characteristics of your own that you label yourself.
Probably they have metal all on magine imaginations like mine I think ALBUM DO have a character so it stands there. Person who wants to investigate something up to learn about it. Experience that would probably speak to my wish to understand experience. But I'm not writing as maybe a person a person whom I consider my description of any thing.
What part of you I guess you could say would be mine but not as a not as a character I might be there but in bare men in disguise his arm may be there as six or eight characters I'll divide it up.
There had to be influences that you have derived from living and growing up in Mississippi.
It was valuable to me because I never had to question anything. I never had to go out and do some research on what people would be wearing to go to in a town this size doings.
I grew up with it. I didn't have to ask myself any thing I knew I would. I grew up. With an encyclopedic knowledge of the kind of society this is and so I could draw on it and I knew it. But if I used it and I think that's invaluable where you don't have to do word to get things right. You know how people are Tao and you you know their meanings you know what what they are saying and what is behind what this thing Stella Rondo is exactly 12 months to the day younger than I am.
And for that reason she's filed. She's always had anything in the world she wanted and she drove away. Papa died again with this gorgeous add a pearl necklace when she was eight years old. She threw it away playing baseball when she was nine with only two Paro so soon as she got married moved away from home the first thing she did was separate from Mr want to come. This photographer was a Popeye's she said she trusted came home from one of those towns up in L and I and to our complete surprise brought this child to me mama said she liked a maid a drop dead bust cycle. Here you had this marvelous blonde child and never so much as wrote your mother word about it says Mama I'm utterly ashamed of you. But of course she wasn't. Stella Rondo just calmly takes out this hat I wish you could see it. She says Why mamma surely tease adopted. I can prove it. House's mom. But all I says was there I was over the hot stove trying to stretch two chickens there were five people in a completely unexpected child into the bargain. Without one moment's notice. What do you mean. Just tell Rondo and Mama says I heard that sister. I said that oh I didn't mean a thing only that whoever showed it to you was she was the spitting image of Papa dead if you cut off his bared which of course she'd never do in the world. Papa dad is mama's papa and sulks Stella Rondo got various. She said Sister I don't need to tell you you got a lot of nerve and I always did have an alibi. Q To make no future reference to my adopted child whatsoever. Very well I said Very well BARON Well of course I noticed it once she looks like Mr. Whitaker side to that. Brown she looks like a cross between Mr political fanatic. Well I can say is she is she looks exactly like Shirley Temple. The maid says Mama but Cher to take just ran away from the first thing Stella Rondo did at the table was turn papa daddy against me papa daddy he said he was trying to cut a piece of meat. Papa Daddy I was taken completely by surprise papa dad is about a million years old and he's got this long long beard. Papa daddy sister said she fails to understand why you don't cut all your beard so papa daddy lays down his knife and bone. He's real rich. Mamma says it is he says Even so he said. Have I heard correctly. You don't want to stand why don't cut off my beard.
Why I says Papa daddy of course on the stand I did not say any such a thing that I did he says has it.
I says Papa daddy you know I would any more want you to cut off your beer than the man in the moon it was a father's thing from my mind. Stella Rondo sat there and made that oh my she was eating breast of chicken. But he says so the postmistress fails to understand why I don't cut off my beard. Which job I got you through my influence with the government bird's nest is that what you call it. Not that it isn't the next to smallest piano in the entire state of Mississippi. I says Oh papa Daddy I says I didn't say any such a thing I never dreamed it was a bird's nest I've always been grateful though this is the next smallest PLO in the state of Mississippi and I do not enjoy being referred to as a hussy by my own grandfather. Stella Rondo says yes she did say it. Take anybody in the world could have heard you that had ears.
This transcript is machine-generated and has not been corrected. It is likely there will be errors.
- Eudora Welty
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- Chicago: “Postscripts; Eudora Welty,” 1984-01-18, Mississippi Public Broadcasting, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 16, 2019, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_60-84mkm5cs.
- MLA: “Postscripts; Eudora Welty.” 1984-01-18. Mississippi Public Broadcasting, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 16, 2019. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_60-84mkm5cs>.
- APA: Postscripts; 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_60-84mkm5cs