‘Miss Welty’ warmed our hearts, spirits

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 26, 2001

Many in Natchez remember the 1990 visit to Natchez by the great Eudora Welty. Most recall the power of her natural charm and modesty. Miss Welty’s death on Monday at 92 will be mourned literally around the world.

As a featured speaker at the first Natchez Literary Celebration, June 7-9, 1990, she treated fans to a reading of her short story, &uot;A Worn Path,&uot; attended a production of her work, &uot;The Robber Bridegroom&uot; at Natchez Little Theatre and signed books at a reception at the Natchez Eola Hotel.

She told of getting her first library card. She was 6 years old when her parents obtained it for her. The card, she said, signaled the importance of reading. She never forgot the lesson.

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&uot;I think my parents were trying to show me that a whole world is available through reading, and really that is why I read just about everything.&uot;

She read and she wrote. Dedicated to her craft, she claimed that regardless of whether she had published any of her work, she still would have continued writing. And for any writer struggling to be published, she advised that same commitment.

&uot;It took me six years to finally get something published. But whether I ever did get anything published, I think I would always keep reading and writing.

&uot;It also takes a love of the written word and the language. I think you have to be blessed with some talent, but you also have to be able to appreciate the life around you and what it has to offer.&uot;

Many who commented on Miss Welty’s work in the aftermath of her death, spoke of the true-to-life characters and the meticulously penned details in her stories. She spoke of that 11 years ago in Natchez.

&uot;You sometimes notice traits people have, such as the manner of dressing or the way they speak, and I have tried to incorporate them into the characters and the situations.&uot;

She was asked about the decline in reading among young people as compared to the habits of her own generation.

&uot;The problem they face is they have a whole lot of other things competing with their time. But to tell you the truth, I am not too worried about the fate of reading, because it has survived for thousands of years and will last for another thousand.&uot;

The highlight of the 1990 Welty visit to Natchez was her reading from &uot;A Worn Path,&uot; a short story set on the old Natchez Trace. Her good friend former Mississippi Gov. William Winter introduced her, and she received a standing ovation.

As she began to read, a total hush fell over the crowd at the Carriage House Restaurant. A rapt audience was nothing new to her, but she accepted her effect on people with the greatest modesty.

This week she probably would express surprise at the rivers of tears that flowed when word spread of her death. Many who had never met her nevertheless knew the world had suffered a great loss.

One Natchez mother of twins received calls in close succession from her grown daughters, one from Jackson and one from Houston. Both were crying when they called, just to think the world no longer included Eudora Welty.

&uot;They really warm the heart and the spirit. How warmed I feel by the reception I’ve received here,&uot; she said of her Natchez visit.

Miss Welty will live on, of course, her characters and stories continuing to thrill, provoke and inspire generations to come. And it’s safe to say that in Heaven, too, the joyful reception must be one warming her heart and spirit.

Joan Gandy can be reached at 445-3549.