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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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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 trail...to 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)
Top Customer Reviews
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.
'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."
III. Finding a Voice - This lecture is the payoff, describing how Welty evolved as a writer and how her characters came to life. "The frame through which I viewed the world changed too, with time. Greater than scene, I came to see, is situation. Greater than situation is implication. Greater than all of these is a single, entire human being, who will never be confined in any frame."
'One Writer's Beginnings' is an amazing, brief look at the long life of a writer and what made her a writer. Like all of Welty's works, it is not a book to be read quickly, but savored.
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.