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Welty continues to offer sage advice along with compelling stories from her childhood in this first section of One Writer’s Beginnings.  She says, “Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories.  Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them.”


She describes the women who visited her mother and how they would talk on and on in monologues the likes of which later became the model for her own story “Why I Live at the P.O.” 


Regarding the time she found out that her mother had lost a baby before she was born, she has this to say:  “The future story writer in the child I was must have taken unconscious note and stored it away then: one secret is liable to be revealed in the place of another that is harder to tell, and the substitute secret when nakedly exposed is often the more appalling.”


In recalling her mother’s reaction to the time she missed the word uncle in a spelling test, she surmises, “It was never that Mother wanted me to beat my classmates in grades; what she wanted was for me to have my answers right.  It was unclouded perfection I was up against.”


Indeed.  This is shaping up to be a prime example of a childhood that shapes a writer.


The section of One Writer’s Beginnings that I read today starts like this:  “Learning stamps you with its moments.  Childhood’s learning is made up of moments.  It isn’t steady.  It’s a pulse.”


If I had only read that much, I would have done something worthwhile with my day.  I did continue for a few pages, however.  This is the section where she tells about her father holding her up to see Halley’s comet when she was only an infant sleeping in his arms—the story that made its way into a Mary Chapin Carpenter song.


Here she continues her theme of listening by recalling her times around the family Victrola.  Even that musical listening she relates to writing:  “Ever since I was first read to, then started reading to myself, there has never been a line read that I didn’t hear.”


She wonders if all writers “read as listeners” and “write as listeners,” if they hear the voice talking as they read.  I’d imagine she’s on to something there.  I’d imagine the good writers and then some read exactly like that.

I started reading Welty’s memoir, One Writer’s Beginnings, this morning.  It was on my mind after someone asked about it in a book club meeting yesterday.   Now I think I’ll go back and forth a little from this book to the stories in The Wild Net for the next couple of weeks.  Honestly, if you want to know more about Welty, where better to start than with what she says about herself?


She begins with clocks, describing the prominence of the grandfather clock in her childhood home and its “gong-like strokes through the living room, dining room, kitchen, and pantry, and up the sounding board of the stairwell.”

This early focus on time holds particular significance for her:  “This was good at least for a future fiction writer, being able to learn so penetratingly, and almost first of all, about chronology.  It was one of a good many things I learned almost without knowing it; it would be there when I needed it.”


The book is not just a memoir, but a literary memoir, her memories of what made her a writer.  Interesting that she would choose a heightened sense of time as a place to start.


From there, she adds reading as an early influence:  “I learned from the age of two or three that any room in our house, at any time of day, was there to be read in, or to be read to.  My mother read to me.”


Her mother read incessantly, it would seem.  Read to her and read in front of her.  Listen up, parents.  This is important. 


She mentions children’s stories like “Puss and Boots,” but she also recalls Dickens, Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, and others.  She even talks about the central location the encyclopedia and the dictionary held in her house.  


Her mother read to her.  If you want your child to grow up to be a successful writer, there’s your first, and most important advice.  Read.    

Someone asked me today what it was Welty said about living a daring life, so here it is:

“As you have seen, I am a writer who came of a sheltered life.  A sheltered life can be a daring life as well.  For all serious daring starts from within.”

This comes at the end of her memoir, One Writer’s Beginnings, and it has long been one of my favorite quotes on writers and writing, or on life for that matter.  Indeed.  It all starts from within.

August 2019
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