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Writing a Book on Teaching Eudora Welty

Posted by: Julia Eichelberger | December 30, 2016 | No Comment |

By C of C English major Matt Woodward ’17.

matt-woodwardDuring the summer of 2016, I worked with Dr. Julia Eichelberger on a forthcoming book entitled Teaching the Works of Eudora Welty: Twenty-First Century Approaches. In this collection of thirty-one essays, Dr. Eichelberger and her co-editor, Dr. Mae Miller Claxton, provide a place for the discussion of approaches to understanding and teaching one of America’s greatest writers: Eudora Welty.

spines-library-of-americaOver the course of the project, I was tasked with assisting Dr. Eichelberger compile resources for the book. I also proofread citations in the manuscript and offered feedback on the book’s introduction and its overall organization.  Of course, this work necessitated a thorough review and discussion of Welty’s works, including a close examination of the interconnectedness of her short stories and novels. In addition, through reviewing the pieces submitted for publication in the book, I gained fascinating new perspectives on how to place Welty’s engrossing narrative voice in a truly modern context.

Among all of the essays reviewed for the project, I was particularly struck by the work of critic Keith Cartwright. Cartwright’s essay, “We Must Have Your History, You Know: African/Soul Survivals, Swallowed Lye, and the Medicine-Journey of ‘A Worn Path,’” offers a fascinating examination of one of Welty’s most vexing and favorite short stories, “A Worn Path.” Cartwright offers a teaching approach to the story that positions a walk down Mississippi’s Natchez Trace as a “medicine story,” akin to the canonized works of Dante and Chaucer. The path of Old Phoenix from her Mississippi home to the city bursts with the vitality of preserved cultural experiences and close attention to the ecological diversity of the region.  Calling attention to Welty’s considerations of African-American traditions, Cartwright’s work offers just one example of the project’s re-envisioning of Welty’s work.pages-of-a-worn-path

Already somewhat of an avid Welty reader before working with Dr. Eichelberger, reviewing and discussing source material with her only enhanced my appreciation for Eudora Welty and Southern Literature more. The essays included in the final version of the project all illuminate Welty’s work as firmly connected to “modern” struggles of regional, racial, gender and political identities. After working with Dr. Eichelberger, any of Welty’s marvelous works, from The Golden Apples series to The Optimist’s Daughter ring with new relevance and power.

As a lifelong resident of the South, I have always tried to be attuned to the ways my home region is depicted in media and especially literature. In the context of the ever-expanding field of Southern Studies, Welty, with the help of critics like Keith Cartwright, can be seen as firmly resisting the bland stereotypes of the fetishized South. Carefully turning her eye towards the internality and, above all, the interconnectedness of Southern life, Welty demands that her readers, Southern or otherwise, leave their preconceptions behind.

This project has granted me a new understanding of the ways Welty, like other more celebrated Southern writers, offers her readers alternative visions and understandings of a region and its people. Through Welty’s fiction, I have arrived at an understanding of the place I call home. A region bursting with complexity, natural beauty, and contradictions. A region maimed by the legacy of history and enlivened by the opportunity for reparation. The South, as proven in Welty’s fiction, exists not as a static backwater, but as a vibrant crossroad of culture.

under: C of C Program in Southern Studies, Research Projects, Students

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