Thursday, May 21, 2009

Dear Heart, The Asylum's No Place for You

Eudora Welty photo, from the recent Smithsonian magazine article

"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."

"`I said, "Dear heart, I know the asylum's no place for you, but neither is the top of a real high mountain or a cave in the cold dark ground. Here's the place." And he said, "All right, Edna Earle, but make me some candy."' (from The Ponder Heart, 1954)
Eudora Welty

“Making pictures of people in all sorts of situations, I learned that every feeling waits upon its gesture, and I had to be prepared to recognize this moment when I saw it,” she later wrote in the memoir “One Writer’s Beginnings.” “These were things a story writer needed to know.” NY Times Art Review

Eudora Welty would have been 100 on April 24. My cousin forwarded to me the Times Literary Supplement's article about Eudora Welty's Centenary, which at last I read. Paul Binding's subtitle is "an appreciation of the travelling publicist of the New Deal and enduring storyteller of the Old South." I enjoyed the article very much. Anyone who has never read Eudora Welty's work has missed a treat and an education in the artistic world of human expression. Although always a fan, I would have missed this article without my cousin's prompt. Thank you!

Though before my "time," my Mississippi roots are embedded here, and the publicist compassion Eudora Welty lived as she chose to forego her business degree at Columbia remind me of all ways we always find our way "home." She returned to Mississippi when she recognized the impracticality of her plan, Paul Binding wrote. She joined the WPA program, funded in April 1935, and her love of people and the cultural truth of life as it was then enhanced her way of doing her job. She saw the high spirits, the grinding challenge of life, of her familiar yet foreign landscape. She beautifully captured the nuances of certain microcosms of life, American life, Southern life. She famously wrote, "The Depression was not a noticeable phenomenon in the poorest state in the Union." Welty took photographs along the way - easily learning when to click the shutter, refining her sensibilities to know just the moment when people reveal themselves, "unposed." People photographed by the heart and the mind together make a different impression upon us. Her power of observation, her skill of articulation, with grace, the nuances of human feeling and gesture, in contexts clearly drawn, are unique and will forever impress their common feeling and uncommon expression.

My parents gave me a copy of One Writer's Beginnings sometime when I was in college. I treasured the gift, and Welty's writing it. Mississippi roots run deep, and although I grew up in Africa, there was never a time when I forgot porches, rockers, trellis vines, ice rattling in pitchers, overgrown green ponds, glass dog figurines, old gas of all kinds float through, with feeling.

It's a profound gift to me to have been introduced to Eudora Welty's work, and to savor it at any level. Her way of observing and recording without propagandizing, noticing the dignity of people in every circumstance, continues to teach me in the best ways what it means to be human.

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