Hours of Welty film discovered in National Endowment archives

Published 7:04 pm Friday, August 25, 2006

Five hours of color footage of writer Eudora Welty has been found in the National Endowment for the Arts media archives and was returned to Mississippi on Thursday.

“This is the only known 60 millimeter film of Eudora Welty reading and discussing her work,” NEA chairman Dana Gioia said during a press conference at the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson.

“This is the earliest known footage of one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century.”

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The footage, which Gioia said was in superb condition, was shot in 1975 as part of an NEA funded project. Several minutes of the footage were used in the documentary “The Writer in America.”

Gioia said the film will be “the greatest literary discovery in American literature this year.”

The organization decided the film would best be displayed at the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer’s home in Jackson’s historic Belhaven district, where Welty lived most of her life and wrote almost all of her fiction and essays. In 2004, three years after Welty’s death at the age of 92, the home was declared a National Historic Landmark.

The NEA is also awarding a $10,000 grant for the preservation of the film to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

Mary Alice White, Welty’s niece and director of the Welty House, and former Gov. William Winter, president of the board of trustees for MDAH, were presented with a canister containing a portion of the film.

“There is no place in the world where this addition to the Welty Collection will be more appreciated or more properly taken care of than in Jackson, Mississippi,” Winter said.

Welty’s relationship with the NEA goes back to 1972 when she served on the National Council on the Arts, the NEA’s presidentially appointed advisory board, from 1972-1978.

Welty was born on April 13, 1909, in Jackson, where she lived most her life. She attended Mississippi University for Women, later graduating from the University of Wisconsin and doing postgraduate work at Columbia University in New York.

Welty’s vivid imagery and shrewd dialogue brought the South to life in “The Ponder Heart,” “Losing Battles” and “The Optimist’s Daughter,” for which she won the Pulitzer in 1973.

She was also praised for her heart-wrenching photographs of Depression-era Mississippi that showed the pride she saw among even the poorest people.

Other works include “Delta Wedding” in 1946 and “Losing Battles” in 1971. “The Ponder Heart” and “The Robber Bridegroom” were made into Broadway plays. Her personal favorite was the 1949 collection “The Golden Apples,” interrelated stories set in the fictional town of Morgana, Miss.

Early in her career, Welty worked for newspapers and radio stations and served as publicity agent for President Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration, the agency formed to provide work for people in Depression-era America.