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Significance of the Collection

The manuscripts, correspondence, photographs, awards, recordings, films, and ephemera that comprise the Welty Collection help to provide scholars and the public with a complete portrait of Eudora Welty. They establish her as one of the most distinguished authors of the twentieth century, who also enjoyed a private life with her family and friends and took great joy in the world of reading and the arts.

The manuscripts provide a crucial archival record of Welty's professional life. As Marrs explains in her 1988 guide to the Welty Collection, they "tell us much about her methods of composition and about the importance of revision to her achievements as a writer. Few careers are more fully documented." The manuscripts, ultimately spanning the years from 1925 to 2001, "show her work as a fiction writer, as reviewer and critic, as dramatist, and as her own biographer." With multiple drafts (handwritten and typescript, complete and incomplete), carbons, galleys, page proofs, blues, and the like, for fourteen published books, the Welty Collection documents "the routes individual works followed from conception to publication. These manuscripts thus immeasurably enrich our understanding of one of the twentieth-century's finest writers" (The Welty Collection: A Guide [Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1988], 26).

The correspondence includes letters both professional and personal; in some instances, such as the Aswell, Maxwell, and Russell letters, the professional and the personal are intertwined. Marrs believes the letters explain "a good deal about the course of Welty's career as a writer, about the friendships that sustained her as an artist and as an individual, and about the travel that enriched her life and her fiction" (The Welty Collection: A Guide, 154). While the letters do greatly enrich our understanding of Welty's career, of the major influences upon her work, and of the editorial assistance she received, they also reveal the nature of her private life, of her feelings on political and social issues, of her deep love and concern for friends and family, and of her quick wit and abiding sense of humor. Ultimately, of course, the letters stand as an important, if vanishing, hybrid genre, existing as critic James G. Watson has asserted, "midway between art and life" (William Faulkner: Letters and Fictions [Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987], xiii.) In 2021, there will be a major addition to the Welty letters held at MDAH: Welty's family correspondence will become part of the collection and be available for research as soon as it has been processed.

The extraordinary Welty images - almost 1,600 prints and negatives - convey the unparalleled richness of Welty's unfaltering eye. They provide an historic record of Depression-era Mississippi. And, as Marrs notes, "Welty's career as a photographer is ... intimately related to her career as a writer. Though her photographs did not inspire her stories, though Welty never consulted her photographs when writing her stories, her interests as a photographer parallel the course of her writing career, and taking snapshots left her with a store of indelible memories that would be available when she needed them. Her photographs of encounters prefigure her fictional concern with human relationships, with love and separateness; her increasing emphasis upon locale prefigures her increasingly detailed and emblematic use of setting in her stories and novels; and her photographs of cemeteries and parades prefigure the central role of these images in the symbolic structure of her fiction" (The Welty Collection: A Guide, 90). Of course, beyond the documentary impact of Welty's photographs and their relationship to her fiction, lies their status as works of art in themselves. The composition, use of light and shade, and suggestions of story and character found in the photographs have won increasing recognition and critical praise.

The riches of the Eudora Welty Collection have drawn scholars from around the world to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, and the collection is cited in almost every major work about Eudora Welty. Still there is much in the collection waiting for exploration by literary critics, historians, biographers, and photography scholars. For further information about the collection, you may access the online catalogue available at the MDAH website.