Brain Pickings

Eudora Welty Reads Her Comic and Quietly Heartbreaking Masterpiece “Why I Live at the P.O.”

“Here I am, and here I’ll stay. I want the world to know I’m happy.”

Eudora Welty Reads Her Comic and Quietly Heartbreaking Masterpiece “Why I Live at the P.O.”

“No art ever came out of not risking your neck,” the great writer and photographer Eudora Welty (April 13, 1909–July 23, 2001) quipped in her reflections on writing. And risk she did — exactly forty years before she received the Pulitzer Prize, which was followed by the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Welty sent the New Yorker what is possibly the most charming job application of all time, only to be rejected. Undeterred, she continued writing. A few years later, she published her first book of short stories, A Curtain of Green (public library). She was instantly recognized as a formidable talent, received a Guggenheim Fellowship, and was invited to join the staff of The New York Times Book Review.

Among the stories in the collection was the marvelous “Why I Live at the P.O.,” inspired by a photograph Welty once took of a woman ironing behind a tiny post office in the South. (That, lest we forget, is the power of an evocative photograph — a single still image invites the fertile imagination to construct a living story, an entire world.) In this recording salvaged from a 1998 cassette, Welty reads this comical yet quietly heartbreaking depiction of family relationships, which remains one of her most beloved and anthologized stories — please enjoy:

Complement with Welty’s terrific New Yorker job application, then treat yourself to other wonderful archival recordings of great writers reading their work: J.R.R. Tolkien reads (and sings) from The Lord of the Rings, Mary Oliver reads from Blue Horses, Frank O’Hara reads his “Metaphysical Poem,” Susan Sontag reads her short story “Debriefing,” Dorothy Parker reads her poem “Inscription for the Ceiling of a Bedroom,” and Chinua Achebe reads his little-known poetry.

Published March 4, 2016




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