A Storyteller of the South
Our list of AAUW Achievement Award Winners is composed of some of the most influential people in history, ranging from the first woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State to the founder of pediatric cardiology. Standing out among these top women in history is Eudora Welty, who received the award in 1985 for her essential contributions to American literature. Her 1972 novel, The Optimist’s Daughter, which tells the story of a woman’s journey home after the death of her father, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1973.
Born in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1909, Welty wrote with a strong sense of place, pulling readers with her into the Deep South — her most familiar setting — and her memories of home. Welty’s work expertly delves into the human condition by showing how setting often governs character and how the past and present meet.
“A sense of place has been important in my writing and in my life,” Welty said in a 1986 interview. “It helps to provide continuity and explain the way events turn out in human relationships. There was a time when you could watch developments through the generations. You knew people’s parents and their grandparents, and you knew what happened to their children. You could see their stories unfolding.”
Welty’s ability to capture this sense of place was one of several reasons for her AAUW Achievement Award. The award also highlighted her gift as a storyteller, her extraordinary imagination, and her love of language.
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When she accepted her award at the 1985 AAUW National Convention, she spoke of how her characters came from her interactions with the world — from people she knew, concepts she read about, or ideas pulled from memory. The common thread was her lived experiences. “It has to come from inside,” Welty said.
Welty received recognition beyond the AAUW Achievement Award and the Pulitzer Prize. In 1980 President Jimmy Carter awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and she was the first living author to have works published in the Library of America. Her portrait is displayed in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
We’re thankful for Welty’s profound contribution to American literature, and we applaud her honest connection with and depiction of human truth in her literary contributions that spanned more than five decades. We look back on her life, her works, and her inspiring story and rejoice in the continued influence of her legacy.
This post was written by Fellowships and Grants intern Emily Carroll.
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