The free lecture is made

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 30, 2006

The free lecture is made possible through a bequest to the Natchez Historical Society by the late Grace MacNeil of Natchez. &8220;Both Beth and I believe this is a wonderful way to remember Mother,&8221; said Anne MacNeil, referring to her sister, Beth Boggess. &8220;Mother would particularly appreciate the emphasis on Mississippi and Natchez history the series will take.&8221; Suzanne Marrs, a Welty scholar and biographer, and Susan Haltom, who is overseeing the restoration of the gardens in the Welty home in Jackson, will present programs. In addition, Marrs will be at Cover to Cover Books & More, corner of Main and Pearl streets, to sign copies of her new book, &8220;Eudora Welty: A Biography,&8221; from 3 to 4 p.m, and also will sign books at the evening meeting. Marrs, a professor of English at Millsaps College in Jackson and also author of &8220;One Writer&8217;s Imagination: The Fiction of Eudora Welty,&8221; is recipient of the Phoenix Award for Distinguished Welty Scholarship. She was a longtime friend of Welty, one of Mississippi&8217;s most distinguished and decorated writers, who died in 2001. Through her friendship with Welty, Marrs gathered unprecedented detailed information to tell of the life of the author in a way never presented before. Haltom, a garden consultant, met frequently with Welty to learn about the history of the garden, which figured prominently in the author&8217;s life as &8220;mother&8217;s garden.&8221;

Chestina Welty, the author&8217;s mother, started the garden in the 1920s. She and Eudora worked together to develop the garden, which features more than 30 varieties of camellias as well as roses, bulbs and many annuals and perennials, for example. Marrs writes in her new Eudora Welty biography that the garden was a way the author&8217;s mother found solace after the death of her husband. &8220;Since 1931 Eudora had attempted to help her mother cope with the loss of her husband, and in 1938 she finally felt able to translate her mother&8217;s sense of loss into fiction and to transform her mother&8217;s garden into an evocative symbol,&8221; Marrs writes. Marrs also tells how the Welty garden restoration under Haltom&8217;s direction had its beginnings, when the Mississippi Department of Archives and History proposed the project. It was in 1994. &8220;Her problems with arthritis and osteoporosis had long prevented her from working in the garden, an activity she had loved,&8221; Marrs writes. &8220;Now the Mississippi Department of Archives and History proposed to restore the garden under the direction of Susan Haltom, a local historic-garden conservationist. Eudora was pleased, and over the course of the next seven years, she would provide Susan with a colorful drawing of Chestina&8217;s garden plan and with an essay her mother had written.&8221; Welty had made provisions for Archives and History to have the house and gardens at her death. &8220;In giving the Department of Archives and History her house and garden, Eudora had hoped to honor her parents. Here was a concrete step in that direction,&8221; Marrs says.

Natchez figures prominently in some of Welty&8217;s works, including &8220;First Love,&8221; &8220;A Worn Path&8221; and &8220;Old Mr. Marblehall.&8221; Set on the Natchez Trace are &8220;The Robber Bridegroom&8221; and &8220;The Wide Net,&8221; among others. Eudora Welty was born in 1909 in Jackson and died there in 2001.

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