Eudora Welty’s instructive memoir One Writer’s Beginnings began as a trio of public lectures delivered at Harvard University in 1983, subsequently published by Harvard University Press the following year and promptly becoming a New York Times best-seller. Since then, the work has become essential, recommended reading for many a writer. In the fall of 2020, Scribner released a new edition, augmented with an introduction by Natasha Trethewey.
While it might have been an easy assignment for a writer already well versed in the merits of this volume to review its new edition, a more interesting avenue presented itself: to invite a review from the perspective of a writer still beginning on her own path of what Welty identifies as Listening, Learning to See, and Finding a Voice. What follows is a review written by Pat Conroy Literary Center intern and Beaufort (S.C.) High School junior Holland Perryman, an award-winning young writer born three years after Eudora Welty (1909-2001) passed away and discovering this important volume for the first time through its new edition. – Jonathan Haupt
One Writer’s Beginnings, reviewed by Holland Perryman
“I felt the need to hold transient life in words — there’s so much more of life that only words can convey — strongly enough to last me as long as I live.” This one is one of many examples of the intimacy and immediacy of how renowned Southern storyteller Eudora Welty conveys “things a storywriter needed to know” in One Writer’s Beginnings, essential reading for anyone with writerly ambitions, and a work recently reissued in a new keepsake edition.
Welty’s legacy as reader and writer comes vibrantly to life in these recollections of her immersion into the realm of stories. She demonstrates an empowering faith that to write is to read, to watch, and to listen — and that to create is to bear witness in an attempt to better understand those around us. Welty’s story begins in her native Jackson, Mississippi, and from there, we travel along through remembrances of West Virginia and Ohio. A companionable guide, Welty reveals herself as she journeys, at much the same cadence as she came to know herself. She ponders the stepping stones that led her to writing life, and the lessons imparted by each.
Many writers will identify with her first love of reading. Welty describes how she could hear the stories she read, as though the voice of the story itself was echoing from the pages, and how she came to trust this voice to ring true when her own writing found its shape.
Welty examines her own becoming, unraveling the journey from her simple origins through the development of her voice and craft to her rise as a celebrated author. Beyond her life of a writer, Welty recalls in broad strokes how it feels to be young. She captures the natural innocence and overwhelming curiosity that take turns shaping each of us. To be young, for Welty, is to be constantly discovering. She illustrates in unerring detail the way the world unfolds for a child as she grows, and the realization that lives — both our own and those around us — are nuanced, complex, and made of stories. In her memoir, she reflects on the connections between her memories and her work, describing her stories to be collages of her surroundings and herself, and conveying that she discovered in herself an innate capacity to create long before she desired to write.
Welty’s timeless memoir is as lovely and vivid as her other acclaimed works. Writers encountering Welty for the first time in the pages of this new edition will draw parallels between their own experiences and those of Welty, despite nearly a century of disparity. Welty ends her memoir, writing, “For all serious daring starts from within.” She exemplifies the significance of coming to know oneself, discovering one’s place in the world, and fostering a meticulous mind and nourished soul to alight a pathway toward a fulfilled life. Whether one approaches this memoir as an admirer of Welty or as a new arrival to her writings, she or he will emerge with new growth and understanding of how to write and, indeed, how to live.
The new edition of One Writer’s Beginnings opens with a thoughtful introduction by Natasha Trethewey, former U.S. Poet Laureate (2012-2013) and Welty’s fellow Mississippian. Trethewey recalls her experience of rediscovering herself and her own beginnings as she read Welty anew. Trethewey writes, “[Welty] shares her experience while reminding us of how similar we are despite how vastly different the particularities of our experience may be.” Her introduction pinpoints the power of this memoir: One Writer’s Beginnings accomplishes a confluence of lives that was so quintessential in Welty’s writing. Our shared experiences transcend all that separates us from Welty across time and place, and through her forthright remembrances, a connection is still forged between us — writer to writer, reader to reader.
One Writer’s Beginnings
By Eudora Welty
November 3, 2020