THE OPTIMIST’S DAUGHTER
“Up home we loved a good storm coming, we’d fly outdoors and run up and down to meet it,” her mother used to say. “We children would run as fast as we could go along the top of that mountain when the wind was blowing, holding our arms right open. The wilder it blew the better we liked it.”
Eudora Welty is one of my favorite writers. She was cut from Faulkner’s cloth, but was a little more accessible and significantly more sober. Born in Jackson Mississippi in 1909, she lived 92 rich years until passing away in 2001. She wrote about the South in ways only a Southerner can appreciate.
Like me, she fell in love with books before she could read them because she loved a good story. She said
Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them. I suppose it’s an early form of participation in what goes on. Listening children know stories are there. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole.
There’s power in a story, like power in a storm. We first feel it in the air and hear its thunder in the distance. By the time the wind and rain come, we are completely drawn in and all we want to do is sit on a porch swing and watch it fall.
Jesus understood that power. He was a wonderful storyteller. I love this exchange between Him and the disciples –
“The disciples came up and asked, “Why do you tell stories?”
He replied, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. “(Matthew 13:10-14)
Jesus was not a theologian. He was God who told stories.
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.
D I G D E E P E R
(1909–2001). The short stories and novels of Eudora Welty are normally set in a small Mississippi town that resembles her own birthplace of Jackson and the nearby Delta country. Like the work of fellow Mississippian William Faulkner, Welty’s writing takes on universal themes: the intricacy of human relationships and the qualities of character often hidden beneath a surface of insensitivity and social prejudice.
Welty was born on April 13, 1909. She was educated at the Mississippi State College for Women, the University of Wisconsin, and Columbia University’s school of advertising. She worked as a writer for a Jackson radio station and newspaper before her fiction won the praises of critics. Her first short story appeared in 1936. From then on her work appeared regularly in such journals as the Southern Review, The Atlantic Monthly, and The New Yorker. Her first collection, A Curtain of Green, was published in 1941. Her novels include Delta Wedding (1946), The Ponder Heart (1954), Losing Battles (1970), and The Optimist’s Daughter (1972), which won a Pulitzer prize.
What is voice?
If style is the flesh of writing, voice is its breath. “The best writing,” Peter Elbow observes, “has voice: the life and rhythms of speech.” For author Eudora Welty, “voice” is “the sound that falls on the page” as one writes and reads what one has written. Yet when applied to writing, “voice” is a metaphor whose roots reach deep into the soil of orality. For Greek and Roman students of rhetoric whose goal was eloquence in public speaking, “style” itself was “voiced” (recall that the Latin word for style is elocutio, from which our word “elocution” comes). For contemporary writers, however, “voice” is more broadly conceived as “a composite of all the rhetorical and stylistic techniques a writer chooses, consciously or unconsciously, to use to present his or her self to an audience.” More specifically, Peter Elbow distinguishes “five senses of ‘voice’ as it is applied to writing: (1) audible voice (the sounds in a text); (2) dramatic voice (the character or implied author in a text); (3) recognizable or distinctive voice; (4) voice with authority; (5) resonant voice or presence.” All of these senses relate and resonate in that finely tuned instrument that we call the writer’s “voice.”
Sources & Resources
Lucretia B. Yaghjian, Writing Theology Well: A Rhetoric for Theological and Biblical Writers, Second Edition. (London; New Delhi; New York; Sydney: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015), 279–280.
The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty appeared in 1980. The Eye of the Story (1978) is a volume of her essays. In 1984 Welty published an autobiography, One Writer’s Beginnings, based on a series of lectures. She died in Jackson on July 23, 2001.
“Welty, Eudora,” Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).