Happy birthday, Eudora!


Eudora Welty, who died in 2001 at 92, would have turned a hundred this year.  Although Stanford’s celebration last Wednesday was a little late (her birthday was April 13), the readings by Rush Rehm, Aleta Hayes, and Courtney Walsh, as well as the lively and insightful talk by Welty’s friend and biographer, Suzanne Marrs, were welcome opportunities to revisit Mississippi’s Pulitzer-prizewinning novelist and short story writer.

Rush recounted Welty’s support for the Civil Rights movement — not as an activist, but as a sympathizer and most especially as a writer.  Rehm, an actor as well as a drama prof, did a powerful reading of Welty’s 1963 story, “Where Is the Voice Coming From?” written after the assassination of NAACP’s Medgar Evers, which took place in Welty’s hometown, Jackson.

Welty had wrote the story within a week of the assassination, and it was published in The New Yorker.  She later said of this story:

“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”(Preface to Collected Stories 1980)

“I thought, I know how bad this man is, and I’m just going to try to imagine what it would be like to be in his skin, because I ought to know … It was a story writer’s challenge.” (More Conversations, p. 68).

When the murderer, Byron De La Beckwith, was eventually convicted, in his third trial more than three decades later, on February 5, 1994, Welty was interviewed, and in response to the statement “I guess Beckwith reminds everybody of Mississippi’s grim past,” she answered, “Just be glad Mississippi also does produce a Medgar Evers.”

Welty also said, when warned of the threats that “Where Is the Voice Coming From?” might attract:  “The people who burn crosses on lawns don’t read me in the New Yorker.”

Comments are closed.