Welty truly extraordinary author
Published 12:05 am Sunday, December 21, 2014
I first knew Eudora Welty, 1909-2001, through her short stories and novels, which were widely acclaimed. In fact, her novel, “The Optimist’s Daughter,” won the Pulitzer Prize in 1973.
Much of her writing was required reading in my classes at Mississippi University for Women in Columbus. I found it delightful to learn that she was an MUW alum, having been a student there in the mid-1920s, and that she and I had sat in the same classrooms.
Later, at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Natchez, I taught Welty’s fiction and always told my students that she and I had MUW in common and that I had gotten to meet her on campus one spring.
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In the early 1980s, when I was active with the MUW Alumnae Association, I had the privilege of getting to know Welty personally. She visited the campus often, and we attended many events together. She was kind, intelligent and simply delightful. We stayed in touch.
In 1989, when the first Natchez Literary Celebration (later called Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration) was being organized, the theme of “The Natchez Trace” was chosen. Of course, I remembered Welty’s story, “A Worn Path,” which is set on the Trace and in Natchez.
I called and invited her to attend the first Celebration in June 1990 and to read aloud “A Worn Path” after dinner at the Carriage House at Stanton Hall. She readily agreed to do so. Of course, tickets flew out the door.
I was amused that when I invited other speakers, all I had to mention was that Welty was on the agenda. They immediately wanted to be on the agenda, too. They wanted to meet her.
Welty’s visit to Natchez was a huge hit. She received two standing ovations at the dinner and a third ovation at the Natchez Little Theatre, where she sat on the front row for a dramatic production of her novella, “The Robber Bridegroom.”
For years, I taught “A Worn Path.” One outstanding characteristic of the story is Welty’s superlative gift for dialogue. A few years ago, I tinkered with the story and adapted it to a short drama.
You can hear for yourself how the story becomes a play on Saturday, Jan. 3, at George W. Armstrong Library, 220 S. Commerce St.
The free program begins at 2 p.m. and features three components.
Lizzie Davis, Jan Byrne, Wade Heatherly and Susannah Heatherly, all of Natchez, will present a dramatic rendition of “A Worn Path.”
Bridget Smith Pieschel of MUW, Director of the Center for Women’s Research and Public Policy, chair of the Department of Languages, Literature and Women’s Studies and author of numerous articles about Welty and her work, will discuss Miss Welty’s use of Natchez in many of her works.
A one-hour Mississippi Public Broadcasting film will be shown, featuring veteran journalist Roger Mudd, former Mississippi Governor William Winter and Welty scholar Suzanne Marrs of Millsaps College, all close friends of Welty. They will discuss her humanity, humor and compassion.
The literary session is part of a monthly series called “The Power of Place: The Natchez Impact on Five Extraordinary Mississippi Authors.”
All sessions lead up to the 26th annual Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration, Feb. 26-28, 2015, which will use the theme, “Bigger Than Life: Extraordinary Mississippians.”
Carolyn Vance Smith is the founder and Co-chairman of the Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration.