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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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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."
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I have read and admired books by both Welty and Maxwell and was pleased to have the opportunity to learn about both these writers and their relationship through this book. Maxwell spent more than 40 years as an editor for the New Yorker where he worked with many leading American authors, including Welty. Welty's writings were substantially better-known during her lifetime than those of her friend, but both author's received the presitigious Howells Medal of the National Acadamy of Arts and letters: Welty for "The Ponder Heart" and Maxwell for his final novel, "So Long, See You Tomorrow". Welty received a Pulitzer Prize and Maxwell the National Book Award among the many honors accorded to each writer.
The Welty-Maxwell correspondence begins in the mid-1940s when Maxwell was promoting her work for publication in the New Yorker. Several Welty stories were rejected at first, but ultimately the New Yorker published seven of her works all of which Maxwell edited. In the early 1950's, the friendship between the two deepened from what had started as a business relationship. The correspondence between the two becomes extensive and covers a wide variety of subjects discussed between erudite, articulate friends The reader learns a great deal about the authors. Marrs divides the correspondence into seven sections, each of which is prefaced by an appropriate line from the letters exchanged during the time. The time periods cover 1942-43, 1943-1954, 1954-1959, 1960-1966,, 1966-1970, 1971-1980, and 1981-1996. In their last years, both writers were plagued by age and illness. Welty was unable to continue the correspondence beyond 1991, but Maxwell continued to write until 1996.
Many of the letters discuss the writings of both Maxwell and Welty. Each says many valuable and almost unfaliling complimentary things about the work of the other. Maxwell was Welty's editor. I thought it instructive to see the tact with which he performed this thankless and unsung task with Welty. It was also valuable to see Welty accepting and responding to suggestions, not an easy matter for any writer. Besides commenting on each others work, Welty and Maxwell exchange views about and discuss many other authors, both their friends and contemporaries as well as earlier authors. Among these writers is the Danish storyteller, Isak Dinesen. Many other writers receive far move attention in the correspondence than Dinesen, but Maxwell offers a stunning short account of a brief conversation with Dinesen.
The two writers discuss common friends, travel, and family. Maxwell's wife Emily was an active part of the correspondence as Maxwell writes about her and the couple's two children. Welty never married but was much more gregarious than she is usually perceived. She writes to Maxwell about her aging mother and her brothers, all of whom die during the course of the correspondence. Besides literature and family, the most common subject of the letters is gardening as both Welty and Maxwell were lovers of and deeply knowledgeable about roses. The Maxwells and Welty exchanged presents on Christmaas and other occasions, and much of the writing deals with the everyday and with reflections on the times they spent together.
The letters have an obviously literary, tactile bent. Welty and Maxwell were close observers of what they saw. (Welty was also a gifted photographer.) The detailed writer's eye and the love of language are apparent throughout the correspondence.
There are many wonderful passages, both short and long, in these letters, and they offer a good portrait of two authors writing for themeselves and one another rather than for a public. The letters show a certain reticence in both parties which Marrs mentions but does not emphasize enough. The love between Welty and Maxwell is unmistakable, but I had the impression that the writers did not share their most personal feelings in their letters. The relationship was a man-woman friendship and does not show the suggestion of erotic interest by either party. The letters mention but do not dwell on difficult issues such as the death of family members, loneliness, or depression. Both writers experienced these and other troubles. There is an almost complete lack of sexuality in the letters, not only between the two friends, but as a subject to be discussed. Judging from the letters, Welty and Maxwell never had a falling-out over anything or even a moderate disagreement. When they discuss, as they do rarely, politics, their opinions are virtually identical. More importantly, both Maxwell and Welty seem to have almost the same literary taste. When they discuss authors or books, their views are interesting but frequently not lively. They seldom if ever disagree or question one another's judgment. Thus, although this book is undoubtedly rewarding, its length, its sometimes mundane character, and the lack of any tension in the relationship between Maxwell and Welty results in slow, bland reading in places.
Early in this book, I found a passage which struck close to home as a writer of reviews here on Amazon. Emily Maxwell writes to Welty about Welty's review of J.D. Salinger's "Nine Stories". She says: "I thought your review of [Salinger's] stories was penetrating and beautiful-- Like the best reviews it was within rather than outside the stories themselves." Emily Maxwell's praise of Welty offers a great deal of wisdom about the art of the short review that is worth taking to heart.
The Library of America includes two large volumes of the writings Welty and another two volumes devoted to Maxwell's books. I am providing the links below. This volume of letters encouraged me to revisit the works of both authors. It is for their published works that both authors deserve to be remembered.
Eudora Welty : Stories, Essays & Memoir (Library of America, 102)
Eudora Welty : Complete Novels: The Robber Bridegroom, Delta Wedding, The Ponder Heart, Losing Battles, The Optimist's Daughter (Library of America)
William Maxwell: Early Novels and Stories
William Maxwell: Later Novels and Stories: The Château / So Long, See You Tomorrow (Library of America #184)
From the 1940s to the mid-1970s, one of the editors working for William Shawn was William Maxwell (1908-2000), a novelist and short story writer. He was a wonderful writer; his novels and stories still resonate. If you haven't read him, you should - novels like "They Came Like Swallows," "So Long, See You Tomorrow," "The Folded Leaf" and "Time Will Darken It."
One of the writers whose stories and short novels were published in the New Yorker was Eudora Welty. Author of "The Ponder Heart," "The Optimist's Daughter," numerous short stories and her autobiographical "One Writer's Beginnings" (among a lot of other works), Welty's stories were championed for years by Maxwell for publication in the New Yorker, until Shawn and the other editors finally agreed. And then they published her work for decades.
They were good friends, Welty and Maxwell were. They were writers who admired each other's work. They both loved growing roses. They loved literature and they loved family. They were born a year apart in different parts of the country, but they were kindred spirits. Both of them have two-volume collections of their works published by the Library of America. And for more than 50 years, they wrote each other letters.
Suzanne Marrs, professor of English at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, has assembled, annotated and extensively footnoted the Maxwell-Welty correspondence into "What There is to Say We Have Said: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and William Maxwell." And it is a marvelous work of literature.
The correspondence is the letters between friends, exchanging news about family, friends, their reading, the vacation plans, what's happening in their gardens.
It's the letters between two people who stood at the center of the American literary establishment. Through their letters walk Frank O'Connor, Walker Percy, William Faulkner, Elizabeth Bowen, Cleanth Brooks, Tennessee Williams, Robert Penn Warren, Reynolds Price, Robert and Sally Fitzgerald and so many other "names" of the 1940s into the 1990s. Whether it's Maxwell describing a dinner conversation with Isak Dineson, or Welty describing Reynolds Price, or the two of them discussing Welty's novel "Losing Battles," what the wrote about at length is a simple wonder. And the letters never descend into the gossipy, which they easily could have. Maxwell and Welty had no need to do that in their letters, because of who they were and the kind of people they were.
Ultimately, their correspondence, along with occasional letters of Maxwell's wife Emily, who was an integral part of the friendship, stands as two friends, two likeminded friends, who loved literature and loved each other. Marrs has created an important and impressive addition to the understanding of two great writers.
Most recent customer reviews
I should include Brookie and Kate Maxwell (the Maxwell daughters) and Chestina Welty (Eudora's mother) in my addressing,...Picasso (Dover Fine Art, History of Art)Read more