83. Eudora Welty (Renowned Southern Tale Spinner)

3 Mar

Here is one regret I’m almost too ashamed to tell y’all about. No, it’s not the time I knocked over an elderly lady’s mailbox because I was driving like a “bat out of torment.” And it’s not the time I destroyed my sister’s sausage biscuit in a near-murderous rage. No, friends, this is far, far worse: I grew up less than 20 miles from a living literary legend, and I never once met her. But, actually, what shames me isn’t that I never met Eudora Welty; it’s that I didn’t even TRY.

I’ve been telling stories since before I could write my name. When I was three or four, I’d sit in front of a tape recorder spinning yarns or perhaps recounting my memoirs. Sadly, these tapes have long since been lost (and don’t you just KNOW they’re Pulitzer Prize material?).

One time when I was home, my dad told me he’d come across a cassette taped labeled “Kim Holloway: Keep Forever.” Of course, when he went to get it for me, it was nowhere to be found. I reckon it will turn up one of these days, and I’ll find out it’s a Duran Duran mix tape or somesuch.

Anyway, when I was a teenager, I could not wait to distance myself from the South. I planned to write Fitzgeraldesque tales featuring the foibles of sophisticated society folks. Or else I would move to London and become a pop star. Whatever happened, I knew one thing: My writing would be devoid of grits, pick-up trucks, and “Good Country People.”

Well, now. Here I am.

Sorry, 16-year-old Kim (or “Fiona” as you were calling yourself back then).

Back in the day, what I knew about Ms. Welty would fit on an index card: She was a famous writer who lived in Belhaven. She shopped at Jitney 14 (a grocery store for y’all not familiar with the now-extinct “Jitney Jungle” chain). She had a library named after her. As much time as I spent in that library, you’d think I’d have run into her at least once. Alas, you would be wrong. I was far too busy chasing long-haired boys to worry with a white-haired lady.

It’s not that I hadn’t read Ms. Welty. “The Worn Path” was assigned reading for my high school lit class, but I wasn’t altogether moved by a grandmother’s journey to get medicine for her ailing grandson. Yawn.

Since this is my blog, I’ll allow myself to interject my theory that high school lit classes do students a disservice by assigning classics that they’re not prepared to: A. understand or B. care about. I’m not suggesting adding “Twilight” to the curriculum, but if you’re planning to assign Steinbeck, perhaps opt for “Of Mice and Men” instead of “The Pearl.” And could you please stop introducing Hemingway as the person who wrote “The Old Man and the Sea.” At the risk of sounding age-ist, I think teachers should refrain from assigning material featuring elderly protagonists. Immortal protagonists are ok.

Oh, how my life might have turned out differently if “Why I Live at the P.O.” had been my first exposure to Ms. Welty’s genius. If you’ve never read EW, this is the place to start or listen to an excerpt here (caveat: If you’re not fluent in Southern dialect, you might want to read along).

Last year, I read a biography of Eudora Welty that probably ought not to have been written, seeing as how Ms. Welty guarded her privacy. Perhaps she’d consider me churlish for even reading it (I learned the word “churlish” from EW and love having occasion to use it).

Imagine my surprise upon discovering that the EW I grew up knowing – the reclusive, genteel spinster – had once been a globe-trotting socialite. Ok, “socialite” might be overstepping…But, still, Ms. Welty spent months at a time in Europe, San Francisco and New York. Though almost all of her stories are set in the South, many were written when she was far enough from home to gain perspective.

So, yes, here we are.

I would never be so bold as to compare my writing to Ms. Welty’s witty prose, but I think that one of the traits we share – apart from being genteel Southern ladies – is that we both had to leave home in order to find it.

What’s your favorite Eudora Welty story?

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13 Responses to “83. Eudora Welty (Renowned Southern Tale Spinner)”

  1. Hippie Cahier March 3, 2011 at 7:06 pm #

    Ok, this isn’t fair. I’m over a week behind in my blog citizenship and this post just popped into my box, so by all rights I should respond after getting to all my other good blog buddies’ masterpieces.

    But you can’t just ignore Eudora Welty!

    “Why I Live at the P.O.” is one of my favorite stories.

    As a former English teacher, I can tell you most don’t have much discretion in assigning which works must be read, but they do have a choice in finding ways to try to make them interesting. I personally believe that’s nigh on impossible with Hemingway, but that’s just me.

    I think Ms. Welty would have been quite favorably impressed with your writing. I know I am.

    • Kim Holloway March 7, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

      Oh, yes, it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature or ignore Ms. Welty. You made the right choice.

      So glad you think she’d be impressed with my writing. I’m blushing again. You’re too kind. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

  2. John McLaughlin March 3, 2011 at 7:27 pm #

    Alice Munro once said that the most perfect short story might be A Worn Path. I remember reading it for the first time as a university English major and I was literally silenced by that perfection. I get your point about high school kids being, perhaps, not ready for certain texts. For me, though, A Worn Path was a glimpse at a true work of art … a perfect short story. Thanks for your post! jm

    • Kim Holloway March 7, 2011 at 4:01 pm #

      Yes, my opinions on literature are constantly evolving. I HATED “The Scarlett Letter” when I read it in high school and LOVED it when I read it in college. And for the record, I do think “A Worn Path” is brilliantly written. But “Why I Live at the P.O.” will always be my favorite.

  3. aj March 4, 2011 at 5:21 am #

    I too couldn’t wait to get out of the South when I was growing up. I love living in Seattle and I don’t think I will return to the South, but I have found a much greater appreciation for the South since I left it. Your blog makes realize how much of a Southern girl I still am at heart — I’m glad to have that heritage.

    • Kim Holloway March 7, 2011 at 4:05 pm #

      Welcome! So glad to find a common spirit reading my blog!

  4. Renee Mason March 4, 2011 at 7:54 am #

    “is that we both had to leave home in order to find it”! You nail it every time. Also, after my mad dash to escape Texas in 1974, I find an odd nostalgia and longing whenever I read one of your posts; it brings back so many memories!

    • Kim Holloway March 7, 2011 at 4:07 pm #

      Thanks, Renee! Glad I can bring back memories. I, myself, enjoy living vicariously through your posts about modeling in Paris. Ooh la la!!

  5. ssanderson March 4, 2011 at 4:43 pm #

    Loved reading this – living abroad off and on the last several years makes me more aware of my ‘Southerness’ and all the things ( and people) that make the region special!

    • Kim Holloway March 7, 2011 at 4:09 pm #

      Thank you. I love making virtual connections with fellow Southern expats.

  6. Mark Nassutti March 6, 2011 at 11:03 pm #

    Hi Kim, thanks for shedding a little light on Ms. Welty for someone who’s never had a chance to read her work. Re: Hemingway and Steinbeck, yes ma’am, let’s start with a rousing story of bullfighting or brotherly love amidst the beanfields of the Salinas Valley. See you next Saturday!

    • Kim Holloway March 7, 2011 at 4:11 pm #

      Thanks for reading, Mark! I definitely had a different opinion of Hemingway after reading “The Sun Also Rises” and his short stories. See you Saturday!

  7. reelingintheyears.wordpress.com March 8, 2011 at 10:59 am #

    Hey, Kim. I mentioned one of your posts today in my blog. So enjoying your sense of humor!

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