Title: One Writer's Beginnings by Eudora Welty, Natasha Trethewey
Published by Scribner
Published: November 3rd 2020
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
I don’t even remember requesting this from Scribner, but when it showed up on my doorstep, One Writer’s Beginnings made me feel entirely delighted. I saved it for a day off so I could dedicate the entire day to reading it, and I’m glad I took the time with it. I’ve only read one of Welty’s stories for my American Lit class in college, but this makes me want to visit everything she’s written. Her perception of the world just speaks to me on so many different levels. Welty’s description of her life in Mississippi has an undercurrent of truth to it that’s difficult to ignore and easy to be enchanted by. I was fascinated by her recollections of the 1918 pandemic and how certain things then correlated with today. It seems at times so strange that this was only one hundred years ago, and not many things are different.
Featuring a new introduction, this updated edition of the New York Times bestselling classic by Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award–winning author and one of the most revered figures in American letters is “profound and priceless as guidance for anyone who aspires to write” (Los Angeles Times).
Born in 1909 in Jackson, Mississippi, Eudora Welty shares details of her upbringing that show us how her family and her surroundings contributed to the shaping not only of her personality but of her writing as well. Everyday sights, sounds, and objects resonate with the emotions of recollection: the striking clocks, the Victrola, her orphaned father’s coverless little book saved since boyhood, the tall mountains of the West Virginia back country that became a metaphor for her mother’s sturdy independence, Eudora’s earliest box camera that suspended a moment forever and taught her that every feeling awaits a gesture.
In her vivid descriptions of growing up in the South—of the interplay between black and white, between town and countryside, between dedicated schoolteachers and the children they taught—she recreates the vanished world of her youth with the same subtlety and insight that mark her fiction, capturing “the mysterious transfiguring gift by which dream, memory, and experience become art” (Los Angeles Times Book Review).
Part memoir, part exploration of the seeds of creativity, this unique distillation of a writer’s beginnings offers a rare glimpse into the Mississippi childhood that made Eudora Welty the acclaimed and important writer she would become.
What I loved the most about this memoir were Welty’s recollections of her reading life and how her reading life developed her writing life. The passages in which she says she yearned to listen to a story reminded me of my own childhood where I felt like I was hungry to just know everything about my family’s life. It’s always somewhat of a shock to discover who your parents and extended family were and are outside of the familiarity with which you grew up, that your parents and aunts and uncles and grandparents were and are people with minds of their own outside of their roles in your life, and that upon looking back you are able to pick out the narrative threads in the past that lead people to become who they are in the present. Fiction helps bring these threads together, though people are by no means mere stories in themselves.
This slim memoir is by no means short. I found myself getting lost in the recollections and explorations Welty puts forth in each of the three sections. I wanted more, but I was satisfied with what I was given; and Welty’s memoir made me consider my own history and my own relationship with words and writing.
Of course the greatest confluence of all is that which makes up the human memory — the individual human memory. My own is the treasure most dearly regarded by me, in my life and in my work as a writer. Here time, also, is subject to confluence. The memory is a living thing — it too is in transit. But during its moment, all that is remember 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.
This would make a wonderful gift for a reader, and I’m so pleased to have had the chance to experience it myself.
Thank you to Scribner for sending me a complimentary copy for review! All opinions are my own.