The Life Library: One Writer’s Beginnings, by Eudora Welty

Last month, when I told you about my first encounter with Jane Austen, I mentioned my favorite English teacher, Mrs. Stone. English was my subject, and I loved all of my teachers – Mrs. Way, in tenth grade, and Mr. Thornton, in both eleventh and twelfth. But Mrs. Stone was special; she was a bookish kindred spirit with impeccable taste and high standards. I adored her, and no “A+” meant as much from any other teacher. (That’s mostly because they were harder to come by in her class than in any other.) For years, even after graduating from college and law school, my standard for reading choices was: would I feel proud to show this book to Mrs. Stone?

(About law school: I do kind of blame her for that. For one assignment, she required us to read real case materials and then write our version of a Supreme Court decision on a contentious issue. With my A grade came the comment “Don’t become a lawyer unless you intend to write Supreme Court decisions.” I zeroed in on the “become a lawyer” part; still haven’t written any of those Supreme Court decisions.)

One Writer’s Beginnings is Eudora Welty’s memoir-slash-meditation-on-writing. I had never heard of Eudora Welty until my mom came home from a back-to-school night or teacher conference with a scrap of paper and “One Writer’s Beginnings – Eudora Welty” written on it. “Mrs. Stone told me I have to get this book for you,” she explained. We promptly drove to Barnes & Noble and found it. And I was shocked at how engaging a book about writing could be – as you can tell from the creased cover, I’ve read it a few times now.

I inhaled the three sections of the memoir – “Listening”; “Learning to See”; and “Finding My Voice” – and then promptly fell down a Eudora Welty rabbit hole, devouring first her short stories, then The Optimist’s Daughter and Delta Wedding, which became one of my favorite books of all time (and still is). In fact, I think Welty was more formative than Mrs. Stone even intended. Already, I had an affinity for the American South – brought on by family vacations every year – and a premonition that I would make my adult home south of the Mason-Dixon line, which I have. Eudora Welty spoke to that affinity; I didn’t feel compelled to the Mississippi Delta – my leanings were more to the Tidewater, and Virginia – but something in her languid, rich Southern prose confirmed for me: I may have been born in New York, but this is home.

What book evokes a sense of belonging for you?

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