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Recently, I read Alice Walker’s We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For, and as I was already working on my “Welty a Day” program, I did wonder about the relation between these two women.  Both had their ties to Mississippi, to the South, yet their experiences must have been so different.  It seems hard to imagine that Alice Walker’s Mississippi even remotely resembled Eudora Welty’s.

 

That’s why I dove right into the Alice Walker interview the minute I opened my new copy of Peggy Prenshaw’s Conversations with Eudora Welty.  What a treat.

 

Walker approaches Welty with an almost reverent graciousness.  She asks about writing and place and people and race.  The interview is not about race, but the topic is there nonetheless.  Walker asks, but she does not push.

 

She asks if Welty in her youth thought “there was anything wrong with Mississippi.”  To which she is told, “I could tell when things were wrong with people.”

 

After asking if Welty had ever met Langston Hughes and being told, “I guess he would have been before my day,” Alice Walker says only, “But he just died in 1967.”

 

Both are terribly classy women in this interview, both terribly wise.  Welty appears to evade questions of race, and Walker appears to accept the evasion.  But then Welty turns right around and says of Langston Hughes, “He was one of the first, poets, I ever read, down here at the library, and I loved his work.”

 

So it seems what she’s really saying is “that’s just not my issue,” and maybe what Walker is really saying is “I do respect that.”

 

There’s more, so much more, to the interview than questions of race.  Welty recounts trying for six years to break into the short story market before two of her stories were finally accepted by the Atlantic.  She takes offense at the notion that some might call her writing Gothic merely because it is Southern.  She notes the importance of a “lyric impulse” in fiction despite insisting she is no poet.

 

Good stuff.  To have only been there…

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