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eudora welty

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Eudora Welty

Documenting the American South
From the University of North Carolina,  texts, images and audio  related to Southern history

Regionalism and Local Color
From the UNC University Library, find out how the terms differ

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Power of Prose

Voices of the South

American literature is unique in the number of voices and cultures it conveys, giving it the power to transform opinions and challenge stereotypes in both obvious and subtle ways. Christa Smith Anderson explains that Southern writers drew on oral tradition and social conflict to striking effect.

If any region is best known for distinctive voice writing, it’s the American South. William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty all contributed to a growing body of classic literature that, in transcending stereotypes, illuminates complex characters and the false pretenses of societies built on a foundation of racial hierarchy. Richard Wright praised Carson McCullers as the first white writer of Southern fiction to treat her black characters “with as much ease and justice as those of her own race,” and remarked on the “astonishing humanity” of McCullers’ first novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.[1]

The 1963 murder of civil-rights activist Medgar Evers prompted Eudora Welty to write a chilling short story that offered a character study of the suspect. In Where Is the Voice Coming From?, written before Byron de la Beckwith was arrested for the murder, Evers becomes the fictional Roland Summers. The narrator is his killer.

I stepped to the edge of his light there, where he’s laying flat. I says, ‘Roland? There was one way left, for me to be ahead of you and stay ahead of you, by Dad, and I just taken it. Now I’m alive and you ain’t. We ain’t never now, never going to be equals and you know why? One of us is dead. How about that, Roland?’ I said.[2]

Once de la Beckwith was arrested, The New Yorker  magazine asked Welty to change some details before it published the story, because there were too many similarities between her fictional creation and the real suspect who was charged.[3]

Welty was a past master of voice writing. Shortly after she worked as a photographer for the W.P.A., she published A Curtain of Green and Other Stories. In the collection is Why I Live at the P.O. The young postmistress of China Grove, Miss., is fed up with her family when her sister, Stella-Rondo, returns home from Illinois, newly separated from her husband and with a baby that Stella-Rondo claims to have adopted. The narrator, whose family calls her Sister, doesn’t believe it for a second, and tries to convince their mother that the child is affected:

‘Can that child of yours talk?’ asks Mama.

Stella-Rondo says, ‘Can she what?’

‘Talk! Talk!’ says Mama. ‘Burdyburdyburdyburdy!’

So Stella-Rondo yells back, ‘Who says she can’t talk?’

‘Sister says so,’ says Mama.[4]

Fred Chappell often writes about a Southern landscape altered by industry

North Carolina author Fred Chappell often writes about a Southern landscape altered by industry. In his story Children of Strikers Chappell captures the voices of a girl and boy accustomed to the industrial climate. They walk alongside a blackened chemical river, hardly noticing the “dreadful stink” that “rose off the waters.[5] The girl discovers something on the ground and pockets it, not — at first — sharing her find with the boy. Finally she tells him it's a foot. “What you mean? What kind of foot?” he asks. She says it’s a tiny baby’s foot. "I ain't believing that," he replies, but then his imagination takes hold and he says, "Gaw... Somebody probably kilt it."[6] She finally shows him what is really the foot of a doll. Nonetheless as the story ends, the children look to the homes of Fiberville where, "In the overheated rooms both the light and the shadows loomed with an unguessable violence."[7]  

Folk culture and oral tradition continue to appear in the works of some Southern writers

Folk culture and oral tradition continue to appear in the works of some Southern writers. The title of Lee Smith’s Oral History, which drew comparisons to the works of Faulkner and McCullers, speaks for itself. Smith, one of today’s best-known voice writers, brings the characters and history of an Appalachian community to resplendent life. When Dory Cantrell comes to the school house to discuss her brother’s schooling, the young teacher, new to the mountains, is taken with her. “I live on Hoot Owl Holler,” Dory tells him, and warns, “and you’d best not come up there atall.” Richard Burlage is determined to get her name before she goes. “‘My name is Dory,’ she said then. ‘Hit means gold.’” In response, Richard thinks to himself, “I know… I know.[8]

Suggested Reading/Additional Resources

  • William Faulkner, This Mississippi author won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1949 and is considered to be one of the nation's foremost writers.
  • Flannery O’Connor, Learn more about this writer from Georgia.
  • Eudora Welty, As a life-long resident of Jackson, Mississippi, Eudora Welty  is best known as a Southern writer of short stories and novels.
  • Carson McCullers, An acclaimed novelist, she was also the author of plays, essays, short stories, and poems.
  • Fred Chappell, Learn more about this North Carolina author.
  • Jones, Suzanne W., ed. Growing Up In the South: An Anthology of Modern Southern Literature. New York: Penguin Group, 1991.
  • Ravenel, Shannon,  ed. New Stories from the South 2003. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2003.
  • Trigiani, Adriana. Milk Glass Moon. New York: Random House, 2002.

Back to Essay

Christa Smith Anderson holds an MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University and received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia. After several years producing and writing television news, she is now a federal government employee by day and a fiction writer the rest of the time. She received the 2002 Cynthia Wynn Herman Scholarship from George Mason University and has published non-fiction in So to Speak, a Feminist Journal of Language and Arts.

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  1. Hilton, Als. “The Novels of Carson McCullers,” The New Yorker: Dec. 3, 2001.
  2. Welty, Eudor a. "Where Is the Voice Coming From?" The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty. New York and London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,1980.  604. passage too long – rights?
  3. "The Medgar Evers Murder: Eudora Welty." Civil Rights, Mississippi, and the Novelist's Craft.. University of Mississippi Libraries Department of Archives and Special Collections. URL: http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/general_library/files/archives/exhibits/civilrights/novelist/evers.htm. Date Accessed: 4/25/2004.
  4. Eudora Welty . “Why I Live at the P.O.” The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty.  New York and London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980. 51.
  5. Chappell, Fred. "Children of Strikers." Growing Up In the South: An Anthology of Modern Southern Literature. Ed. Suzanne W. Jones. New York: Penguin Group,1991. 66.
  6. Chappell, p.67
  7. Chappell, p.69
  8. Smith, Lee. Oral History. New York: Ballantine Books, 1983.121.

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