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What There Is to Say We Have Said: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and William Maxwell Hardcover – May 12, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

While Welty and her New Yorker editor Maxwell were contemporaries, he 34, she 33 when they first met at a New York literary party in 1942, they seemed to be virtual opposites. He was a devoted family man; she was a loner. His nearly 200 letters to her divulged his entire personality; among the surviving letters, Welty omitted any reference to the love of her life, married crime novelist Ross Macdonald. But Welty and Maxwell recognized from the get-go that they were kindred spirits. The correspondence of this volume, gracefully edited and annotated by Welty's biographer Marrs, takes off in 1951, when the New Yorker began to publish Welty's fiction. Maxwell was an accomplished writer, too, and in these unfailingly cozy letters, which take us up to the 1990s into his old age, the pair discuss not only their work together and apart, but the orchids they loved, their day-to-day lives, and the writers they admired, from Virginia Woolf and Dylan Thomas to J.D. Salinger. Both correspondents were blessed with personality-plus, mirrored in these letters. Also included are one essay, one speech, and one reader's report by Maxwell. Photos. (May 12)
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"How rewarding to become the third person present in the discoveries of life and literature between Eudora Welty and William Maxwell. I have always believed the only ‘knowing’ one can have of a fiction writers is through the fiction itself; but here, in the personal medium of to-and-fro wit and vitality, is to be had further experience of the writer Eudora Welty, whose stories, in particular, have opened my vision of human relations."

—Nadine Gordimer


"What a glorious collection! These letters make a map into the very heart of friendship and creativity. They are bursting with intelligence, tenderness, and insight. Every page is a privilege to read."
—Ann Patchett, author of The Patron Saint of Liars, Bel Canto, Run, among others


"Something truly special happened each time Eudora Welty and William Maxwell wrote a letter to the other. Suzanne Marrs has collected more than 300 of those letters and set them into a time and context. Anyone who relishes and celebrates the magic use of words, storytelling, and friendship will treasure the end result forever. And, most likely, they will continue to pick it up and read from it forever. It’s truly that kind of special."
—Jim Lehrer


"A complex improvisation carried on for years by two artists for whom nothing in the realm of literature or feeling was remote."
—Alec Wilkinson, author of The Happiest Man in the World and My Mentor: A Young Writer’s Friendship with William Maxwell


"This book lets us in on the happy fact that two splendid writers, who did not sacrifice humanity to career, were warmly admitted to each others’ lives."
—Richard Wilbur


"These letters evoke a lost world when events moved a bit more slowly, and friends could take the time to be both eloquently witty and generous with each other, and letters were unobtrusively artful about daily life. Welty and Maxwell are like two birds of the same species, calling to each other across the distances."
—Charles Baxter


"If friendship is an art, this volume is its masterpiece—the complex rendering of two long, literate lives well-lived, always written with care, intelligence, grace, and even humor! Miss Welty’s gentle, constant humor is a revelation, providing the grace notes in this beautiful exchange. And, oh my—our own paltry e-mails pale beside these letters, as our scatter-shot lives seem trivial in comparison to the constancy and purpose of the correspondents."
—Lee Smith


"A literary revelation. Suzanne Marrs’s editing of this rich collection is superlative."
—Roger Mudd, journalist and broadcaster


"One of the richest and most riveting collections of famous-people letters to emerge in some time."

"A vivid snapshot of 20th-century intellectual life and an informative glimpse of the author-editor relationship, as well a tender portrait of devoted friendship."
—Kirkus Reviews


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (May 12, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547376499
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547376493
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #759,180 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By amazonbuyer on April 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I thoroughly enjoyed reading "What There Is to Say We Have Said". Welty and Maxwell were gifted writers. Just like the champagne Bill loved, their intellects were twice fermented. First with their genius and then with their discipline, creating the perfect interplay between reality and the ethereal.

These letters reveal what normal lives both writers lived. One of the funniest illustrations of this comes when Bill mentioned that "Brookie has picked up her room." That he underlined this comment about his daughter's accomplishment needs no explanation.

As I read "What There Is to Say", time seemed to slow down for me. Welty and Maxwell seemed to relish every moment, rather than making everything rushed and urgent. It was as if they took the minutes of each day into the palms of their hands, touching them, slowly inspecting and memorizing them from every possible angle, before reluctantly releasing them. This was demonstrated most clearly in Bill's recount of an evening with Isak Dinesen.

Maxwell captured every aspect of Dinesen's appearance and soul as he perceived her. He spoke of his conversation with her and how he "worshipped her all through dinner". Dinesen came alive for me. The moment is frozen in time because he did not rush through it or focus on himself. He honed in on Dinesen and wrote of the beauty and elegance of every movement and inflection. It was as if he was personally slowing time down for the enjoyment of the moment that would soon pass by. Maybe in this way writing is like parenting, if you want to be good at it you cannot be selfish. You have to be willing to spend time focusing on others.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves Welty, Maxwell, and their contemporaries.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Shannon L. Yarbrough VINE VOICE on April 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Eudora Welty once said "Never think you've seen the last of anything." And just when I thought that the art of letter writing was truly dead, Suzanne Marrs gives us such art reminding us that although technology such as email and a faster paced society may be responsible for the lack of letter writing, the art of it is still here for us to enjoy. And Marrs' artwork comes to us in the form of a lovely volume of the letters shared between William Maxwell and Eudora Welty over the course of some 50 years.

It begins in the 1940s when Maxwell was editing for the New Yorker. He'd met Eudora at a party and later wrote to her asking for a short story for the New Yorker. Her first couple of stories were rejected, but a kind friendship evolved from that request, and readers get a "Peeping Tom" view at it from the letters the two magnificent writers penned to one another.

Imagine coming across a stack of letters in the dusty attic of a long gone loved one and you sit down to read them. You are overcome with tears and smiles at the pieces of history and of their lives that the letters suddenly reveal to you. If you are a fan of either of these wonderful authors, that's kind of how you will feel upon reading this book.

Eventually some of Welty's stories were accepted thanks to Maxwell's efforts, along with the entire novella The Ponder Heart, so Maxwell became not only her friend but her editor. The craftmanship of writing and editing shared between the two is truly inspiring, especially if you have read any of Welty's work that is mentioned. If you haven't, then get ready to visit the library because you will want to read it. Maxwell's own great work is also mentioned as he seeks out Eudora's writerly advice on characterization and plot.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Steve Schwartz VINE VOICE on April 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Eudora Welty achieved classic status in the Fifties and has kept it. William Maxwell -- novelist, short-story writer, essayist, and legendary New Yorker editor -- was always a "writer's writer," although he has a volume in the Library of America. Maxwell fell in love with Welty's writing early, when it mattered. He lobbied hard for her inclusion in The New Yorker, despite the aversion of the editor, Harold Ross, for her work. His persistence paid off. The magazine published Welty's Ponder Heart and just about everything else she sent them from then on.

In the process of correspondence and Maxwell's close editing of Welty's writing for the magazine, they became friends. When Welty visited New York, they met and fell further into friendship. They came to consider one another family.

I enjoy reading letters, but only from people who know how to write them. No worries here. Some correspondences between literary folk are conscious literary productions. The writers know that not only just the addressee, but posterity will be reading them as well. Although such letters exist in the Welty-Maxwell collection, they are fairly rare and were produced for specific circumstances. For example, Maxwell's contribution to a Welty Festschrift took the form of a letter. Generally, however, this is not the case. These are two friends essentially keeping in touch. The letters may lack the finish of their stories and essays, but that doesn't deny their literary qualities. Two wonderful writers just can't help themselves, and there's a lot of play between them. They can't break the habit of entertaining their listeners, readers, and friends.

The letters tend to reflect (no big surprise) the writers' habits as writers.
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