cover image Eudora Welty

Eudora Welty

Ann Waldron. Doubleday Books, $25.95 (416pp) ISBN 978-0-385-47647-8

In a disheartening kickoff to a chronicle of the writing career of the intensely private ""first lady of the South,"" Waldron (Hodding Carter: The Reconstruction of a Racist) dwells on Eudora Welty's unattractive physical appearance. That established, Waldron records Welty's literary milestones from writing humor for school magazines and society columns for Southern newspapers to the publication of her early short stories and subsequent award-winning novels, such as Delta Wedding and The Optimist's Daughter. Episodes in Welty's difficult home life--the illnesses and deaths of her father and two brothers, the often strained relationship with her mother--are briefly described with cool detachment. Waldron devotes a fair amount of space to Welty's sustaining friendships with authors Katherine Anne Porter, Elizabeth Bowen and William Faulkner, but she also openly regrets not being able to expose the unmarried Welty's romantic liaisons or her sexual orientation. She is sharpest when writing of Welty's hated rival, Carson McCullers, and in the book's personalized introduction. ""I'd rather you didn't talk to her,"" was Welty's attitude toward Waldron's project, and this lack of access to the octogenarian, her friends or even her neighbors leaves the book rather soulless. Although peppered with quotes from Welty's archived papers and filled with carefully assembled dates and facts, the biography offers little insight into the emotional life of a writer with an extraordinary voice. (Nov.)