Thursday, January 15, 2009

Eudora Welty's Snapshots

Who remembers our informative tour at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) in September? It feels like it was a million years ago. Oh, okay, I exaggerate, but who can forget the use of passwords, the typing of secret codes, the passing through locked steel doors, and an x-ray room. It felt like we were going into the U.S. Treasury vault; instead, we accompanied friendly librarians into the lair of Mississippi treasures. Among these treasures resides the Welty collection of manuscripts, photographs, letters, and first edition books. Once in the lair, we faced a sampling of such materials.

I'm not sure which librarian told the story concerning Welty's snapshot titled "Spank," but I culled the following books (below in the picture) in search of the photo. I found it in Eudora Welty: Photographs as number 38; unfortunately, it is much smaller than the MDAH librarian’s example. As the story goes, an author asked to use "Spank" for a collection on corporal punishment and Miss Welty said no. She said the woman posed showing Welty the size of fish caught that day. It was only after developing the photo that Welty thought it looked like the mother might be spanking her child.

Later in the meeting room, someone suggested a writing assignment using her photography. Students can write fictional stories based on a single work of their choosing and be graded on grammar and content. Looking for an easier assignment? Ask the class to analyze one of Welty’s snapshots. What is going on in the picture? What are the people feeling? Is it a negative or positive situation? Then give them a picture such as on the cover of A Known World and (just for fun) let them shout out titles. Afterwards, let them pick their own photo to title and write a short paragraph explaining the name.

As I gaze through her collection on my desk, it is easy to imagine Miss Welty writing her short stories with these images in mind. Thanks to all the MDAH staff for an enlightening tour and chance to see Welty’s work up close. ~ Maggie

First photo from left to right: Eudora Welty: Photographs with foreword by Reynolds Price, One Time, One Place: Mississippi in the Depression with opening remarks and history on snapshots by Eudora Welty, Welty: an exhibition at the Mississippi State Historical Museum, Jackson, Mississippi (catalog) with introduction by Patti Carr Black, and Country Churchyards with an essay by Hunter Cole and introduction by Elizabeth Spencer. ~ Maggie

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