Eudora Welty

Eudora Welty

By Charles Howard Worboys, Jr.

By Charles Howard Worboys, Jr.

Eudora Welty, surely one of the great American writers, died in July. She was old, and vulnerable to interviewers who attempted to portray her as the elderly and kind lady scion of Southern letters.

Miss Welty was not kind, at least not to her characters, and not likely to pursue themes that thrust kindness and sentimentality into the reader’s vulnerable mind. Katherine Ann Porter, in the preface to an early Welty book, A Curtain of Green And Other Stories, says: “Dullness, bitterness, rancor, self-pity, baseness of all kinds, can be most interesting material for a story provided these are not also the main elements in the mind of the author. There is nothing in the least vulgar or frustrated in Miss Welty’s mind. She has simply a mind and an ear sharp, shrewd and true as a tuning fork.”

However, she could also describe the mysteriously beautiful, which surrounds her life and ours. Case in point. This reviewer has spent uncountable hours, watching intently, entranced as if in religious reverie, as Pistol Pete plays his electric, Chicago blues on the stage at Big Cities. Always I was amazed at its intensity and spontaneity…and wondering how to put such stuff into words.

Then, while writing this story, sitting at the Divine Cup, a coffeehouse conducive to writers and to apt flashes of memory, remembering a Eudora Welty story …. called “Powerhouse”. … about a famous and fictional blues piano player, described by a white southerner in a Mississippi roadhouse.

“Powerhouse” explodes into the first set, thunders a first chord.

“Powerhouse”: “This note marks the end of any known discipline. Powerhouse seems to abandon them all—he seems himself lost-down in the song yelling up like someone in a whirlpool—not guiding them—hailing them only. But he knows, really. He cries out, but he must know exactly. ‘Mercy!…What I say!…Yeah!’ And then drifting, listening—Where that skin beater?’—wanting the drums, and starting up and pouring it out in the greatest delight and brutality. On the sweet pieces such a leer for everybody. He looks down so benevolently upon all our faces and whispers the lyrics to us. And if you could hear him at this moment on ‘Marie, the Dawn is Breaking’! He’s going up the keyboard with a few fingers in some very derogatory triplet-routine, he gets higher and higher, and then he looks over the end of the piano, as if over a cliff. But not in a show-off (way)… the song makes him do it.’

Miss Welty wrote about where she lived, which was Jackson, Miss., and although a state capital and university town, it allowed people to move and talk slowly. And Miss Welty to observe that slow moving, and to note that slow and characteristic talk, which inhabits each of her stories.

“She is anything but a recluse, as becomes apparent when asked about her writing habits; she says she can write anytime, anywhere, even on the front seat of her car, ‘except at night.’ What’s wrong with writing at night? ‘Oh,’ as if this were obvious, ‘I like to see my friends then.’” Walter Clemons in a 1970 interview.

As with a lot of great literature, Eudora Welty’s work was less than celebrated by most of her neighbors. Everyone knew Welty wrote her stories, but only a few were awed enough to buy the books and read them. This was not the case with America’s critics and writers, who quickly recognized the major and outrageous talent possessed by the young woman from Mississippi. She did graduate work at the University of Wisconsin, could have lived in New York or Paris, but understood that this was unnecessary. Life was life, wherever you lived it, and stories can be created.

For aspiring writers, etc. . .The Divine Cup is located at Madison and 1st Avenue.

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