In 1973, Mississippi’s Eudora Welty received the Pulitzer Prize for her novel The Optimist’s Daughter. The year before, she won the Gold Medal for Fiction of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and a few years—and honorary degrees—later, she was honored with the National Medal for Literature from the American Book Award and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
It was the beginning of a long period of acclaim for the accomplished author from Jackson. By this time, Miss Welty had published five novels, one children’s book, one book of photographs, and four collections of short stories. She later published her memoir, One Writer’s Beginnings, which became a national bestseller.
Miss Welty’s short stories intrigued filmmaker Richard Moore. With a camera crew in tow, he traveled to Jackson in 1975, and he recorded Miss Welty in her home as she read from her original works. Richard Moore’s films were archived at the National Endowment for the Arts.
When Miss Welty died in 2001, at the age of 92, the literary world knew her words would live on. Then, Richard Moore’s films were rediscovered, and now, we can literally hear her voice again. Stories first published in 1941, remained universal not only at the filming but also today. Excerpts from her 1970 novel Losing Battles also ring as true today as they did then.
Thanks to permission from Richard Moore, The Mississippi Department of Archives and History, and the Eudora Welty House Museum, Mississippi Public Broadcasting is proud to present four of these films in two special episodes of Writers. Petrified Man, excerpts from Losing Battles, and an excerpt from The Wanderers comprise the first program. The much anthologized A Worn Path and Why I Live at the P. O. make up the second.
A Curtain of Green, 1941, (short stories)
The Robber Bridegroom, 1942, (short novel)
The Wide Net and Other Stories, 1943, (short stories)
Delta Wedding, 1946, (novel)
Music from Spain, 1948, (short story)
The Golden Apples, 1949, (related short stories)
The Ponder Heart, 1954, (short novel)
The Bride of the Innisfallen and Other Stories, 1955 (short stories)
The Shoe Bird, 1964 (children’s book)
Losing Battles, 1970 (novel)
One Time, One Place, 1971, (photographs)
The Optimist’s Daughter, 1972, (novel)
The Eye of the Story, 1978, (essays)
The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty, 1980 (short stories)
One Writer’s Beginnings, 1984 (autobiography)
Photographs, 1989, (photographs)
Article about the Richard Moore films
Eudora Welty Foundation
Eudora Welty house
Eudora Welty page
Eudora Welty newsletter
Eudora Welty Society
Eudora Welty story
“Conversations with Eudora Welty” edited by Peggy Whitman Prenshaw
“Mississippi Writers Talking” interviews by John Griffin Jones
“One Writer’s Imagination: the Fiction of Eudora Welty” by Suzanne Marrs
Video interview with Eudora Welty
How a Southern writer came to lend her name to a computer program
1920 Silver Badge, St. Nicholas Magazine, for a drawing "A Heading for August."
1921 $25 prize in "Jackie Mackie Jingles Contest."
1925 Gold Badge, St. Nicholas Magazine, for a poem "In the Twilight."
1938 "Lily Daw and the Three Ladies" in The Best American Short Stories of 1938.
1939 "Petrified Man" in Prize Stories 1939: The O. Henry Awards.
1940 "The Hitchhikers" in Best American Short Stories 1940.
1940 Bread Loaf Fellowship for the upcoming summer.
1941 Yaddo Writers' Conference, Saratoga Springs, New York.
1941 "A Worn Path" in Prize Stories 1941: The O. Henry Awards.
1942 Guggenheim Fellowship.
1942 "The Wide Net" in Prize Stories 1942: The O. Henry Awards, second place.
1943 "Asphodel" in The Best American Short Stories of 1943.
1943 "Livvie Is Back" in Prize Stories 1943: The O. Henry Awards, first place.
1944 American Academy of Arts and Letters, $1000 prize.
1946 "A Sketching Trip" in Prize Stories 1946: The O. Henry Awards.
1947 "The Whole World Knows" in Prize Stories 1947: The O. Henry Awards.
1949 Guggenheim fellowship renewal.
1951 "The Burning" in Prize Stories 1951: The O. Henry Awards, second place.
1952 Election to the National Institute of Arts and Letters.
1954 Honorary LL.D. from the University of Wisconsin.
1955 Howells Medal for Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for The Ponder Heart.
1956 Honorary LL.D. from Smith College.
1957 "A Flock of Guinea Hens Seen from a Car" in Best Poems of 1957.
1958 Honorary Consultant to Library of Congress.
1958 Lucy Donnelley Fellowship Award from Bryn Mawr College.
1960 Ford Foundation grant for two seasons of observation and study at New York's Phoenix Theatre.
1962 Henry Bellamann Memorial Foundation for Contribution to American Letters.
1966 Creative Arts Medal for Fiction from Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts.
1968 "The Demonstrators" in Prize Stories 1968: The O. Henry Awards, first place.
1970 Edward MacDowell Medal.
1971 Doctor of Letters degree from the University of the South.
1972 Election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
1972 Gold Medal for Fiction of the National Institute of Arts and Letters.
1973 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Optimist's Daughter.
1975 Honorary Degree from Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut.
1975 Honorary Degree from Newcomb College, New Orleans, Louisiana.
1975 Honorary Degree from Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Massachusetts.
1977 Honorary Degree from Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
1979 Honorary Doctor of Letters degree from the University of Illinois-Urbana.
1979 National Medal for Literature for 1979 from the American Book Award.
1980 Medal of Freedom given by Jimmy Carter.
1981 Honorary Degree from William Carey College, Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
1981 Medal of Excellence from Mississippi University for Women
1982 Eudora Welty Chair of Southern Studies established at Millsaps College.
1982 Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Columbia University.
1983 St. Louis Literary Award from Associates of St. Louis Libraries.
1984 Eudora Welty New Playwrights Series established at the New Stage Theatre of Jackson.
1984 Common Wealth Award from the Modern Language Association.
1984 Elmer Holmes Bobst Award for Fiction for lifetime achievement in arts and letters.
1984 The Lillian Smith Special Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southern Regional Council of Atlanta.
1986 Grand Master Award from the Birmingham-Southern Writer's Conference.
1986 National Medal of Arts for contributions to the nation's culture from the National Endowment for the Arts.
1986 The Eudora Welty Library, a branch of the Jackson Metropolitan Library, dedicated.
1987 French Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres medal.
1987 Authors Award from the Mississippi Library Association.
1987 Sesquicentennial Medal from Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Mass.
1987 Appalachian Gold Medallion from the University of Charleston, Charleston, West Virginia.
1988 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Lifetime Achievement Award.
1988 Honorary doctorate from Princeton University.
1989 Phi Beta Kappa Associates Award.
1989 Selected to have portrait hung in the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution.
1991 The Corrington Award from the Department of English at Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana.
1991 Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award from the Tulsa Library Trust.
1991 Cleanth Brooks Medal for Distinguished Achievement in Southern Letters.
1991 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.
1991 PEN-Malamud Award for Excellence in The Short Story.
1992 Frankel Humanities Prize from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
1992 Distinguished Alumni Award from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.
1993 Honorary Degree from the University of Burgundy, France.
1994 Richard Wright Literary Prize from Copiah-Lincoln Community College, Wesson, Mississippi.
1996 French Légion d'Honneur.
1998 Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the Mississippi University for Women in Columbus.
1998 The Mayor's Arts Achievement Honors from the Arts Alliance of Jackson and Hinds County in Jackson, Mississippi.
1999 Distinguished Achievement Award from the Southern Book Critics Circle.
Click here for a complete list of educational resources related to this episode.
Welty Reads, Part 1
(“Petrified Man,” “Losing Battles,” and “The Wanderers”)
Host Gene Edwards’s opening comments
Petrified Man—it’s a wonderful, funny short story written by Mississippi’s Eudora Welty in 1937. She published this tale in 1939. Then, in 1975, this Pulitzer Prize winning author read her story for filmmaker Richard Moore. This film—and five others—were archived at the National Endowment for the Arts, where they were “rediscovered” some 30 years later. Now, we’re delighted to bring this treasure to you.
Host Gene Edwards’s comments introducing “Petrified Man”
Welcome to this special edition of Writers. I’m Gene Edwards. And we’re thrilled to bring you these films featuring Eudora Welty. She’s one of the treasures of American letters. Her novels and short stories won nearly every prize for literature which could be won, including the Pulitzer. She kept that award in a box in a closet in this house in Jackson, in Mississippi. It’s a house her parents built. She moved in as a teenager and lived the rest of her life here. She wrote in her bedroom upstairs.
Although she won her Pulitzer for a novel—the Optimist’s Daughter—she was known for her short stories. Honing every element tightly is the challenge—and the art—of the short fiction author. There’s no room for extra characters, or words, or plot twists. Every element counts. And Eudora Welty is always considered among the best of the best. In addition to having her work appear regularly in The New Yorker, she published four collections—A Curtain of Green was her first. When it came out in 1941, it put her on the literary map. Petrified Man, the tale you’re about to hear, was one of its many wonderful stories.
Miss Welty’s career as a writer really began in 1936, when she published Death of a Traveling Salesman in a small magazine called Manuscript. A year later, she was regularly sending stories to the Southern Review, whose editors were the distinguished Robert Penn Warren and Cleanth (say “Klee anth”) Brooks. Eventually, they accepted seven of her stories, but when she sent them Petrified Man, Warren rejected it. In despair, Eudora Welty burned her only copy—in the stove in her kitchen. Then Warren asked to see it again. He was having second thoughts. So Miss Welty rewrote it, completely from memory; Warren accepted the story; and it became one of her most anthologized pieces. When she met Warren for the first time, she confessed to the rewriting and asked if he thought she'd been dishonest. No, he answered, you wrote it, didn't you?
As you listen to Miss Welty read this story, listen carefully to her words. Petrified Man is one of her stories told largely with dialect. There may be no other writer with a more accurate ear for the individualities and regional distinctions in the spoken word.
Here, in Petrified Man, she uses dialogue not in a belittling manner, but to add dimension and authenticity to her characters, to help them come to life. That’s one of the many wonders of Eudora Welty. Listen and imagine Leota and Mrs. Fletcher and the beauty shop.
Host Gene Edwards’s comments introducing “Losing Battles”
I love Miss Welty’s last comment—that it took her ten years to discover a pun she had written. Mr. Petrie…petrified. All of us who knew her and loved her appreciated her gentle genius!
Eudora Welty wrote that story here, on a manual typewriter, in her bedroom. She wrote the rest of her books here, too. She liked to sit in near the window when she worked, and people driving by would strain for a glimpse of her. This was Eudora Welty’s place, this house… this Jackson…this Mississippi.
Miss Welty called place one of fiction’s lesser angels, but it was central to her work. She said it made stories genuine, believable. She used places in Mississippi as the setting in many of her stories. After all, it was her home state and a state where she knew the landscape and the characters intimately. In the 1930s, she worked as a junior publicity agent for the Works Progress Administration and traveled rural Mississippi extensively. As a young woman, she studied in Wisconsin and New York, and as a famous author, she traveled the world. But she always returned home to write.
After her father died in 1931, Eudora Welty lived in this house with her mother. They gardened and had an active social life. All the while, Miss Welty was writing, and in 1955 she began work on a story to be called Losing Battles.Soon after beginning, she faced family problems that prevented her from working consistently. Her brother Walter suffered from a virulent form of arthritis; her mother from eye problems and a series of small strokes. Walter died in 1959; her mother and brother Edward in 1966. Grief then prompted Eudora to write The Optimist's Daughter, her novella focusing on the power of memory to compensate for loss. She published it for the first time in 1969 in The New Yorker. Only then did she return to Losing Battles and complete what had become a long, comic novel –with tragic elements—about a family reunion.
As one critic aptly observed, Losing Battles is a “comedy that releases, illuminates, renews our own seeing, that moves in full knowledge of loss, bondage, panic, and death.”
And now, Eudora Welty reads from Losing Battles.
Host Gene Edwards’s comments introducing “The Wanderers”
What a great line—People don’t want to be read like books…! It tells us not only about the character but also about Eudora Welty. When it came to people and relationships, Miss Welty had an unerring eye and ear. She has proved it here.
Our next story is introspective, told more through narrative than dialogue. It’s also an excerpt, this time from The Golden Apples, a set of seven interrelated, yet independent stories. The Wanderers is the last, and the words you’re about to hear are the last part of that story.
Virgie Rainey’s mother has just died and been buried. Virgie is moving away. She stops for one, final look around. And through Miss Welty’s vivid descriptions, you can see the courthouse and feel the cleansing rain. You can share Virgie’s moment of revelation.
Host Gene Edwards's final comments
Wasn’t that wonderful? It’s good to hear Miss Welty’s beautiful voice again. We’d like to thank Richard Moore, the filmmaker, as well as the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and of course, the Eudora Welty House for allowing us to bring this to you. I’m Gene Edwards. Thank you for joining us.