Seminar highlights Welty’s literary contributions

Published 12:05 am Sunday, December 14, 2014

A painting of Welty hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

A painting of Welty hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

The city that served as the backdrop for several of Eudora Welty’s literary works will play host to a seminar highlighting the famed Mississippi author and Pulitzer Prize winner.

Welty’s work and life will be celebrated Jan. 3 through a series of seminars titled “The Power of Place: The Natchez Impact on Five Extraordinary Authors,” which is presented by Copiah-Lincoln Community College in conjunction with the 26th annual Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration.

Welty, who was born and raised in Jackson, was an accomplished author and photographer who won a Pulitzer Prize for her novel “The Optimist’s Daughter.”

Email newsletter signup

While her characters and stories are mostly Southern, NLCC founder Carolyn Vance Smith said Welty’s work has a universal reach.

Welty was a frequent visitor to Natchez throughout her life and used both the City of Natchez and the Natchez Trace as the setting for many of her stories, such as “Old Mr. Marblehall” and “A Worn Path.”

“Miss Welty is probably the most famous of the five authors we’re celebrating because she did win a Pulitzer Prize and produced a lot of work,” Smith said. “In several of her works, she describes Natchez and the Natchez Trace so vividly, that it’s a prime example of the stories Miss Welty set in this part of the state.”

“A Worn Path,” set on the old Natchez Trace, tells the story of a grandmother, Phoenix Jackson, who walks the old Trace to get medicine for her grandson.

While in town, Jackson asks for help from the townspeople on several occasions.

Smith said the grandmother’s actions illustrate several themes, including survival.

“She’s the Christ-like figure on the mission of love,” Smith said. “It’s not a whodunit, it’s a story of selfless determined love.”

Those themes will be on full display during the seminar as members of the Natchez community will act out a portion of the work.

“We’ve converted it to a short play that I’ve developed some time ago and used in several different ways,” Smith said. “It’s a short production, but it’s something different that illustrates (Welty’s) incredible use of dialogues.”

Natchez resident Wade Heatherly, who has acted in several Natchez Little Theatre productions, will play the part of a hunter in the reading of “A Worn Path.”

Heatherly said he was looking forward to being a part of the production and anything to help promote the works of Mississippi authors.

“Mississippi has a very rich culture in literature and film, and I think the festival and things like this help highlight that,” Heatherly said. “A lot of people know Mississippi for a lot of things, but having such a rich literary background might not be one of them.”

Apart from the short production, Bridge Smith Pieschel, director of women’s studies at Mississippi University for Women, will speak to those in attendance about Welty’s use of Natchez in her work.

Pieschel, a native Mississippian, became the director of the Center for Women’s Research and Public Policy in 2005 and now chairs the Department of Languages, Literature and Women’s Studies and is interim chair of the Department of History, Political Science and Philosophy.

“Dr. Pieschel is very aware of Miss Welty’s writing and the venues in her work,” Pieschel said. “We’re very pleased to have her here speaking on Miss Welty’s work.”

The free seminar will be at 2 p.m. Jan. 3 at the Judge George W. Armstrong Public Library, located at 220 S. Commerce St.