Jarrett Zeman, MDAH Museum Division cataloger, brings us this post in an ongoing series about his work on the IMLS project to catalog, photograph, and create digital object records for MDAH’s Museum Division artifacts.

Every painter has their palette; every sculptor has their clay.  Eudora Welty had a typewriter, and a number of other tools to help her stories take shape.  How did Welty remember her ideas, create a space to develop them, and edit them down to the most effective expressions of her soul?  To find the answer, we must enter her bedroom at the Welty House.

Just off the second floor landing, the bedroom features a small wooden desk, set in a corner by white cotton curtains.  Welty wrote nearly all of her major works in this room, including the Pulitzer Prize winner The Optimist’s Daughter in the 1970s.  Working as history detectives, we can use the objects on this desk to piece together her writing process.

Welty understood that ideas strike us at inconvenient times: in the supermarket, on the freeway, or in countless other places where fleshing out an idea proves impossible.  She often scribbled down character, plot or setting notes on whatever she had handy—receipts, checkbooks, or small notebooks that fit in a purse.  Welty used the back of this checkbook to remember plot ideas, while she used this black datebook to record a series of names, some real (“Sondra and Wondra—twins”) and some fictional (“Booster” “Celida”, “Willette”).

Welty used checkbooks like this one to jot down story ideas when they came to her in public (reproduction).

Welty used checkbooks like this one to jot down story ideas when they came to her in public (reproduction).

With these ideas in mind, Welty needed the proper writing space to develop them.  Her desk sits before three large windows, where she could view the buildings of Belhaven University, framed between a pair of towering oak trees.  While Welty did not face the windows, she liked to sit sideways where she could see outside, “because I like to be aware of life going on…I couldn’t write with a blank wall in front of me.”  Pinehurst Street provided its fair share of sights, from cars to joggers to neighbors walking their dogs.  The quiet of suburban Belhaven allowed Welty to escape the hustle-and-bustle of city life, and focus on her craft.  In our next entry, we’ll explore how Welty turned words into prose.

View of Welty’s office.  The Belhaven neighborhood is visible behind the desk.

View of Welty’s office. The Belhaven neighborhood is visible behind the desk.