20 October 2009

Jackson, Mississippi: Eudora Welty: Literary Landmarks of the Southern United States, #10

Jackson celebrates Eudora Welty's centenary, and this was a very eventful day for us. We were, as we had been for the past three days, staying in a hotel in Vicksburg, and the Welty house was within easy reach, particularly as an interstate exit was very close to the house in the centre of Jackson.

The street marker outside the house reads: 'Eudora Welty (1900–2001), one of the most acclaimed writers of the twentieth century, lived in this house for seventy-six years. The house was built by Welty's parents, Christian and Chestina Welty, in 1925. Eudora Welty wrote all of her major works here, including the Pullitzer prize-winning novel The Optimist's Daughter. Welty and her mother were devoted gardeners, and many of the flowers and bushes they planted still grow in the garden. The Eudora Welty House is a National historic Landmark.'

As the whole region had suffered torrential rains for several days – some roads in Atlanta had been severely flooded, but we managed to avoid it – this was unfortunately all that we were able to view of the garden that Welty and her mother in particular had tended so lovingly. (I might add that although by this relatively early stage of our journey the rains were coming to an end, toward late afternoon for several days, we had been subjected to almost unbelievable rainstorms when driving back to the hotel, making the journey a little longer than expected. but I must admit that I even found this somewhat enjoyable.)

I was given a leaflet entitled 'Eudora Welty Driving Tour' at the house, so took the occasion to explore places in the area associated with Welty. This is the birthplace of Eudora Welty on North Congress Street.

The plaque says:

'This house, built by Christian and Chestina Welty in 1908, was the birthplace and childhood home of their daughter, Eudora. Many of the events memorialized in Miss Welty's book, One Writer's Beginnings, occurred here and take on a sense of timelessness for those who visit.

'David Norris and Joe purchased the property in 1979 for offices. Their restoration efforts reversed the tragic decline of the condition of the house and preserved it for its later acquisition by the Mississippi Writers Association to serve as the focal point of the Eudora Welty Writers' Center. The foresight of the Mississippi Legislature in funding this project and the leadership efforts of Jo Barksdale, Writers Association Executive Director, combined to make possible this living tribute to one of Mississippi's greatest writers.'

The leaflet, although quick to point out the difference between the park Welty knew as a child and today, quotes from one of her stories, 'The Winds': 'They ran through the park and drank from the fountain. Moving slowly as sunlight over the grass were the broad and dusty backs of pigeons. They stopped and made a clover-chain and hung it on a statue. They groveled in the dirt under the bandstand hunting for lost money, but when they found a dead bird with its feathers cool as rain, they ran out in the sun [...] they floated magnolia leaves in the horse trough, themselves taking the part of the wind and waves, and suddenly remembering who they were. they closed in on the hot-tomale man, fixing their frightened eyes on his lantern and on his scars.'

The Jefferson Davis Elementary School which Welty attended is also on North Congress Street, just a few steps from her birthplace.

This restaurant was once George Street Grocery, where Welty's parents would send her on errands.

This building on Griffith Street is now the Mississippi Department of Education in this state capital, but it was formerly the Central High School where Welty was educated after the elementary school.

Welty attended this church in North Congress, the Galloway Memorial United Methodist Church.

Welty's gravestone bears a quotation from The Optimist's Daughter: 'For her life, any life, she had to believe, was nothing but the continuity of its love.

On the other side is a quotation from One Writer's Beginning: 'The memory is a living thing—it too is in transit. But during its moment, all that is remembered joins, and lives—the old and the young, the past and the present, the living and the dead.

As you have seen, I am a writer who came of a sheltered life. A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within.'

The Eudora Welty Library on North State Street.

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