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One Writer's Beginnings (The William E. Massey Sr. Lectures in the History of American Civilization) Paperback – August 5, 1995

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Editorial Reviews Review

Among the most beloved of American writers, Eudora Welty's stories and novels have entertained us for over half a century. Here, in her memoirs, she writes with her usual candor and grace about how a writer's sensibilities are shaped. As compelling as her stories, as witty as her personality, as finely honed as her fiction, Welty's account of her life is a powerful and fulfilling read.


In these lectures, thoughtful attention is given to a great many experiences...It is all wonderful...The parts of the book that are about her family...are by turns hilarious and affecting. They are a kind of present...from Miss Welty to her audience. (William Maxwell New Yorker)

Beguiling as autobiography and...profound and priceless as guidance for anyone who aspires to write serious fiction...It may, at that, not be possible to convey to someone else that mysterious transfiguring gift by which dream, memory and experience become art. Yet, in these few pages, Eudora Welty seems to have followed the the richness of her maturity with a gracious and warming clarity. (Los Angeles Times Book Review)

[Eudora Welty] is to be looked for, not in blatant self-advertising confidences, hints and nudges, but in the metaphorical clues she drops, which are the exposures of a disciplined sensibility. From them we can deduce a history of a life. One might say her writing, spun out like the web of a 'noiseless patient spider,' is not about but of herself. At bottom, the beauty and astonishment of her fiction, as Emerson might say, is 'all design.' For it is by design, by her calculated disclosures, that this storyteller makes herself and her writing powerful and free. (Daniel Aaron London Review of Books)

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Product Details

  • Series: The William E. Massey Sr. Lectures in the History of American Civilization (Book 1984)
  • Paperback: 104 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; Reprint, 2003 edition (July 21, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674639278
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674639270
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.3 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #103,359 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

63 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Mark Valentine on April 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover
More than an autobiography, more than a journal of the writing process, Welty has written--has braided with words--a thematic disclosure of self-discovery that runs deep.
At the beginning of the short book, I first became entranced by her description of growing up in the South in the early part of the 20th Century. I felt that I was in the same confident, storytelling hands of Burns (Cold Sassy Tree); Welty re-creates the sights, sounds, and smells of the age, making it familiar to me.
But then she writes of her narrative development, how she started to write, what voice she sought to create, how she started to see her world and present it in her tales. It is in this writing that the book takes on a fascinating layer of depth.
Welty writes of the life of narratives--those she read as a child and those she created--in bringing meaning to her world. She references her world with her work. Or is it the other way around? Still, while reading this book, I felt that I was overhearing the dialogue created between the author and her text. It provides a rare glimpse between artifact and artist.
I would highly recommend this book as a companion reader to her fiction; she tells just enough of her origins that the rest will become evident in its discovery. And she is at the top of her craft as a storyteller.
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38 of 38 people found the following review helpful By A. Wolverton VINE VOICE on January 7, 2002
Format: Paperback
Eudora Welty is considered one the the greatest fiction writers of the 20th century. Being from Mississippi myself, I am embarrassed to admit that until about four years ago, I had never read any of her work. After reading 'The Golden Apples' and 'The Optimist's Daughter,' I realized what a treasure I'd missed. 'One Writer's Beginnings' belongs in that treasure chest as well.
'One Writer's Beginnings' would probably be better appreciated by readers who have read at least a short story or two by the late Ms. Welty. (She passed away last year.) Her style and charm are obvious from the first page, but if this is the first contact a reader has had with Welty, he or she may not appreciate the book fully.
First of all, I should speak to what the book is NOT: It is not a how-to-be-a-writer book. It will not teach you how to tighten up your stories, how to plot, how to sell your stories, or anything else of a practical nature in the writing business. It is not a strict autobiography, although parts of Welty's life are described in detail. It is not a book to breeze through, even though it comes in at slightly over 100 pages.
What is the book? It is actually a series of three lectures delivered at Harvard University in 1983 when the writer was 74 years old. The three parts are titled as follows:
I. Listening - As a child, Welty spent many hours watching and listening to the people around her in Jackson, Mississippi. She carefully absorbed their stories and how they told them. She began to listen to and fall in love with words.
II. Learning to See - As she stepped outside of her home to visit relatives along with her parents, Welty makes some wonderful discoveries about her family in West Virginia and Ohio. Time is "a continuous thread of revelation.
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By JK on October 27, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I've been a fan of Eudora Welty since discovering her short stories as a teenager many, many years ago. I wrote her what is probably a typical teenager's fan letter, and she was kind enough to reply and answer some questions I had in detail. I have since read all of her work, and still consider it a disgrace that she never won the Nobel Prize--she deserved it.
This little autobiography is a great read even for those unfamiliar with Miss Welty's work--it's that engaging. As with her fiction, she is particularly adept at providing the atmosphere in the South where she lived her life. By the time I finished reading of her childhood I felt like I had a true and realistic rendering of her family, told with the tenderness and dignity that marks all of her work.
I've always found Welty's friendship with Katherine Ann Porter to be an interesting facet of her early career, since Porter assumed the role of mentor. Miss Porter was, and is, well known for her beauty and was a 'free spirit' when it came to lovers. Regardless of her other attributes, there is no doubt that Eudora was quite ugly to look at, and certainly led a very different personal lifestyle than did Miss Porter. I hope that one day a biographer will further detail their relationship.
As an aside, I have a dual-tape recording set of Miss Welty reading some of her short stories. She had what must be one of the most pleasant and engaging reading voices I've ever heard. If the reader ever has a chance to purchase her on tape, buy it.
I've long felt that Eudora Welty took on the title of the pre-eminent American female writer of the last century following the death of Willa Cather. This little jewel of a book will delight her old fans and possibly create some new ones.
A great gift idea for anyone enjoying biographies.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Law Student on February 29, 2004
Format: Paperback
Eudora Welty's One Writer's Beginnings is an excellently composed book about the writer's personal life, and her personal style of writing. Welty is a very eminent writer, whose many honors include the Pulitzer Prize, the American Book Award for fiction, and the Gold Medal for the Novel given for her entire work in fiction. Thus her book about her own personal development as a writer is extremely important, since it provides essential clues to her success. One Writer's Beginnings is mainly focused on Welty's life, commencing with her childhood, and how it had a significant effect on her writing. Mainly the book is composed of three main topics: listening, learning to see, and finding a voice. These topics explain Welty's personal development as a writer, and one should definitely read and consider each one of them. One Writer's Beginnins is an interesting book, containing potent intellectual and emotional qualities, and also educational themes.

One Writer's Beginnings' main themes are very elucidating, since they provide important clues to Welty's success as a writer. The book commences with Welty's early life and the description of her family. In this she starts her first main topic- "listening". She describes her interest in listening to others, and she learned to be an observer. As she states, "A conscious act grew out of this by the time I began to write stories: getting my distance... is the way I begin work." This enchantment of listening helped Welty develop a clear idea on how to compose stories, and how to describe different personalities. The next main topic is "learning to see", which describes her impressions of every place she visited.
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