Warm, chatty letters over six decades between a short-story master and her New Yorker editor.
When they met in 1942, Eudora Welty (1909–2001) had yet to appear in the New Yorker, though William Maxwell (1908–2000) was already an ardent admirer. It took him another nine years to persuade founder Harold Ross, who found Welty’s work suspiciously “arty,” to publish “The Bride of Innisfallen.” The correspondence kicks into high gear with an exchange of letters over that story’s galley proofs, revealing Maxwell as a sensitive and respectful editor. Their friendship was by then firmly established and embraced Maxwell’s wife Emmy; editor Marrs (English/Millsaps Coll; Eudora Welty, 2005, etc.) includes a few of her letters as well. Welty and Maxwell share the pangs of creation—both were painstaking writers who often took a long time to gestate short works—as well as tips about gardening and updates on their families. The Maxwells met Welty’s mother and beloved nieces several times; Welty adored the couple’s two daughters, whom she saw on her frequent stopovers in New York. The writers exult together as honors are showered on both in later years: Welty garnered a Pulitzer prize for The Optimist’s Daughter, and Maxwell’s novella So Long, See You Tomorrow in 1980 won the Howells Medal, which Welty had received 25 years earlier for a novella dedicated to the Maxwells (The Ponder Heart). Even as old age, ailments and the deaths of friends and relatives assail them, the tone of their letters is almost always positive and supportive. Indeed, both writers were such thoroughly nice people that readers may occasionally wish for a bit of mean-spirited gossip of the sort that enlivens Virginia Woolf’s correspondence. Still, it’s inspiring to see a literary friendship apparently untainted by competitiveness or jealousy, though the sameness of tone makes this better for browsing than a cover-to-cover read.
Thoroughly annotated and judiciously selected—a vivid snapshot of 20th-century intellectual life and an informative glimpse of the author-editor relationship, as well a tender portrait of devoted friendship.