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Home:  >News & Events   >News Archives   >2001

Welty manuscripts stir interest

30 July 2001


JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Eudora Welty, who died last week at age 92, published no new fiction after 1973. But she spent years typing away, raising the tantalizing possibility that there is unpublished work sitting in her attic.

Welty was one of the 20th century's most beloved authors and was the first living writer to be given her own volume in the prestigious Library of America series. Any posthumous work would attract widespread interest.

Caretaker Daryl Howard, who looked after Welty for 10 years, said the author was often at her typewriter.

"I never looked on to what it was, she would just say 'I have some work to do,'" Howard said. "I'm certain there are things in the attic."

Reynolds Price — a close friend of Welty's and himself a well-regarded author — raised the issue last week in a New York Times op-ed piece. He suggested Welty might have an unpublished manuscript centering on the effects of a rape inside a community of schoolteachers.

Price wrote that Welty frequently spoke of the piece, though he never saw it.

If something is found, the decision to publish would fall on Welty's former neighbor, fellow Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Ford. He is now her literary executor.

While Ford said he is not aware of any unpublished material, he did not rule anything out.

"They will learn and find out what is stacked up there in that attic," Ford said by telephone from his New Orleans home.

Posthumous works have a highly mixed history. Some literary classics, including Virgil's The Aeniad and Franz Kafka's The Trial, were published posthumously, despite requests from the authors that the works be destroyed.

But some books are apparently better off unpublished. Ernest Hemingway's True at First Light and Ralph Ellison's Juneteenth are among the recent posthumous works that received near-universal criticism.

Johns Hopkins University literature professor John Irwin believes writers often hold back mediocre work.

"The 17th century poet Edmund Waller said, 'If people could see the lines we blot out, we'd lose the small reputation we have,'" said Irwin, who is writing a book on F. Scott Fitzgerald. "I think that's true of writers ... (T)here's an unseen work that they didn't publish."

Seetha Srinivasan, who worked with Welty on publishing matters as the director of the University Press of Mississippi, said Welty once expressed dismay that works are sometimes published against writers' wishes.

Srinivasan said she once suggested Welty publish some early material.

"In her wonderfully, intimately sweet way, she said no," Srinivasan said. "I will never forget the way she gently reminded us there is a reason it was not published."

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