Tender letters reveal interwoven literary lives.
Mystery writer Ross MacDonald, the pen name of Kenneth Millar (1915-1983), first wrote to Eudora Welty (1909-2001) in 1970 about her novel Losing Battles; it was a “fan letter” thanking her both for that book and her mention of his work to a New York Times reviewer. That letter began a 13-year correspondence that lasted until Millar’s death from Alzheimer’s disease. Edited, helpfully annotated, and sensitively introduced by Welty’s biographer Marrs (English/Millsaps Coll.; What There Is to Say We Have Said: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and William Maxwell, 2011, etc.) and MacDonald’s biographer, Nolan (Artie Shaw, 2011, etc.), the letters offer eloquent testimony to the writers’ deep affection. “I’m so grateful that we understand each other and feel alike,” Millar wrote. “Your letters are like tokens of goodness and kindness coming to me out of a terrible world,” Welty replied. In 1971, the two met for the first time in New York. “I feel that there wouldn't ever have been a time when we wouldn’t have been friends,” Welty wrote afterward. But they saw each other only rarely: in 1975, both were headliners at a writers conference in Santa Barbara, where Millar lived with his wife. Although Millar wrote about her affectionately, the editors reveal that the Millars’ marriage was strained, and Millar apparently had hidden Welty’s correspondence, discovered by a friend after his death. Both exulted in nature, especially birds: Millar noted white-crowned sparrows and a horned owl, Welty, warblers, kinglets, and gnatcatchers. The flight of sandhill cranes, Millar wrote, “was the greatest natural sight I ever witnessed.” They shared news of writing, reading, triumphs, and loss: Millar’s daughter died; Welty’s friend was murdered. In the late 1970s, to Welty’s dismay, Millar wrote of a “shadow on my memory and therefore on my mind.” He soon could not write, even to his beloved friend.
An intimate, luminous portrait of a friendship.