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Eudora Welty's stories 'bear repeating'

By Pearl McHaney
Special to CNN

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Pearl McHaney edits the "Eudora Welty Newsletter," a quarterly journal founded at the University of Toledo in 1977 and now published at Georgia State University in Atlanta, where McHaney has been an assistant professor of English since 1998. In this analysis, McHaney, who had often visited Welty, offered CNN her reflections on the famed Southern writer, who died Monday at the age of 92.

Of late, people have asked me of Eudora Welty, didn't she repeat herself? Perhaps she did, with a story or two in conversation, but then I always argued that her stories bear repeating and are better than most that are told only once. Eudora Welty never repeated herself in her fiction, however. And in her fiction, essays and photographs, she lives on. Each of her four collections of stories, each of her five novels is fresh, experimental and enlightening.

I last spoke with Eudora Welty a few days before her 90th birthday. She was kind enough to see me, although I was hardly one of her friends, just an admirer, spending my professional life introducing others -- students, family, friends, book club readers -- to her words.

I showed her a book just published of tributes written by writers who remarked on the moments of first recognizing her genius, the power of her fiction. She smiled as I read out their names.

Author Eudora Welty dead at 92  
Eudora Welty:  
Awards and honors

"Where is he now?" she asked about several of her friends.

She had mystery novels, poetry, magazines tumbled about on the table beside her.

One time I took with me a copy of the 1927 "Meh Lady," the annual at Mississippi State College for Women, as it was then called. Welty attended the "W" for two years before leaving the South for a more progressive school, the University of Wisconsin. I showed Miss Welty a photograph of herself in the cast of the school’s drama production, "Ice Bound," by Owen Davis. I had read the play on my drive to Jackson to determine which role she might have played.

"Oh yes," she said, "the old spinster. I had the first line of that play."

She was delighted to recognize her school friends, but had lost the news that Davis had won the 1923 Pulitzer Prize for that play. Always full of wit and fun, Miss Welty once sang a Beatrice Lily song for me. Another time it was "Beautiful Ohio."

"My father was from Ohio, you know." Yes, I knew.

What we can do now to honor the life of this remarkable writer is to celebrate her writing -- with song, drink, and a good reading from her marvelous work. My favorite is from the story "Moon Lake" in "The Golden Apples" -- the description of the pear purchased on a train.

"Each pear with a paper cone wrapping it alone, beautiful, symmetrical, clean pears with thin skins, with snow-white flesh so juicy and tender that to eat one baptized the whole face, and so delicate that while you urgently ate the first half, the second half was already beginning to turn brown."

While we wait for another such genius to appear on the horizon, we can read to our heart’s delight in the fiction of Eudora Welty.

• Eudora Welty Newsletter
• Eudora Welty, Mississippi writer and photographer
• Eudora Welty, a hometown perspective

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