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A Biography

A-EudoraWeltyEudora Welty, one of the finest Southern short-story writers of the 20th century, was notoriously reclusive. Although one of her best-beloved books is a memoir, One Writer’s Beginnings (1984), she didn’t like to write about herself or talk to reporters. Four years after her death, a detailed biography recreates her life. Marrs, who knew Welty, undertook this biography with her blessing. She chronicles Welty’s life in Mississippi, her views about segregation and racism, her post-Pulitzer writer’s block, and her relationship with her mother. She also tackles Welty’s mysterious love life. Drawing on previously unavailable letters, Marrs sensitively describes two of Welty’s key relationships and, in so doing, rethinks many of the myths of this writer’s life.
Harcourt. 672 pages. $28. ISBN: 0151009147

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[A] richly researched, absorbing, serenely written and definitive Eudora Welty biography. . . . Suzanne Marrs has written an admirable, engrossing and gently gripping biography fully worthy of its remarkable subject." Tom Nolan

Dallas Morning News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[This] new biography of Eudora Welty captures the humorous and unconventional spirit of one of the South’s greatest writers. . . . Suzanne Marrs manages to put the life and work of Ms. Welty in proper perspective, with the aid of numerous letters that are being made public for the first time." Charles Ealy

Seattle Times 3 of 5 Stars
"[Marrs] underscores the adventurous nature of Welty’s life and notes the frustration she felt when her independent spirit was constrained by family duty. It draws plausible links between the dramas of her life and the vigor of her fiction. . . . Still, this effort isn’t entirely satisfying." Michael Upchurch

Boston Globe 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Marrs promises more than she can deliver. . . . [She] proves a less assured and far less balanced biographer in relating more complex dimensions of Welty’s social self." Christ Navratil

Orlando Sentinel 1.5 of 5 Stars
"We can only hope some future biographer will deliver a study equal to the power and strength of Welty’s life and writing. Until then, the grande dame of Southern letters will remain underserved by this book." Henry L. Carrigan Jr.

Washington Post 1 of 5 Stars
"Some of this is interesting, but mostly one lurches through this endless procession of trivia wishing that Marrs had exercised her blue pencil, or delete key, more often, and given proper perspective to the arc of Welty’s life. . . . The result is a book that will appeal mainly to lovers of marginal literary gossip." Jonathan Yardley

Critical Summary

The critics left us with decidedly mixed reviews. On the one hand, they were thrilled to peek inside the life of a writer so beloved and enigmatic. Marrs, who teaches at Millsaps College in Jackson, provides a welcome book in part because it replaces Ann Waldron’s unauthorized biography, Eudora (1998). Yet too often Marrs loses the forest for the trees, recording the endless specifics of Welty’s social calendar but not uncovering the meaning of her friendships. Still, she provides new insight into Welty’s romances and adventurous nature. Another enterprising writer will no doubt undertake another biography in 2021, when Welty’s correspondence with her mother, now sealed, is opened. Perhaps that next biography will give more texture to Welty’s complex life.

To read Eudora Welty

The Optimist’s Daughter | Eudora Welty (1972): Award Star Pulitzer Prize. This poignant novel is about two women representing the old Southern tradition and a newly modernized South.