Sunday, January 16, 2011

Book Review - One Writer's Beginning by Eudora Welty

Eudora Welty is one writer I don't remember reading. Possibly in an English class somewhere we were assigned one of her stories and I read it. I know I haven't read any of her novels. Yet, when I saw the small paperback One Writer's Beginning at a thrift store for 50 cents, I bought it. I was pretty sure I would gain something from it.

The book was assembled from lectures Welty gave at Harvard University in 1983. She was from Jackson, Mississippi, to parents who moved there from Ohio and West Virginia when they were married in 1904. Welty was born the next year, to be joined by two brothers over the next five years. In the first part of the book, titled "Listening", Welty tells how her earliest childhood years, and how they fed her imagination. She doesn't talk about writing at all.

In the next section, "Learning To See", she tells of family vacations back to Ohio and West Virginia, and spending time with the extended family. Train trips and road trips are part of this section. A road trip in 1917 was quite an adventure. Each set of grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins had an impact on Eudora. From abundant story telling on her mom's side to an absolute ignoring of the past for sake of looking toward the future on her dad's, she learned to look to the past and the future.

The third section, "Finding A Voice," is where Welty tells how the events of her life became scenes in stories, and neighbors and teachers became characters. Welty even says how she put some of herself into one character.

All in all, the book didn't give a lot of information for writing help. It was not inspirational, or motivational. It didn't really provide hints on the writing craft. it's a straight memoir. If it had anything to help a writer it was: Use the events and people in your life to populate your stories. That's not exactly an earth-shattering revelation. Despite the lack of immediate benefit, I'm going to keep the book, and possibly re-read it in a few years.

The previous owner of this book made a note here and there. Inside the back was written, "Purchased at University of Arkansas Fayetteville, Ark June 1987". Most of the marginalia was a single word, such as "genealogy," "scenes," "library," "Latin". Many words or phrases are underlined. But, what caught my eye was the single word written on the introductory page: "Interesting". Ah ha, Dr. Farina, former high school English classmate. I'm not the only one who find that an acceptable word to characterize reaction to a composition.

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