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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

In Progress: Welty & Maxwells' 'Your heart down on paper'

One of the great joys of reading the letters of great writers is seeing the delight they have as readers. All spring and so far this summer I've been savoring What There is to Say We Have Said, a sampling of the letters Eudora Welty and William and Emmy Maxwell wrote to each other for more than 50 years. The friendship began when the Maxwells met Welty one New York evening, loved her storytelling, and Maxwell helped bring her short stories to The New Yorker.

Here are three snippets that give an idea about the way these loving, warm-hearted people wrote to each other over the years (in between much talk of food, roses and when they would see each other):

It's as if you'd put your heart down on paper. ...as if I was sitting up to a peat fire & listening to the voice of a master storyteller. I could hear your voice all the way through and at the same time all the characters' voices were their own.
-- Emily Maxwell to Eudora Welty on May 15, 1970, about the novel Losing Battles

I'm so glad her rose (Maxwell daughter Brookie) bloomed. ... I think that's what your stories do, too -- coax the flower. Their gentleness is a form of concentration, and their strength comes out of what was intuitive always, -- in the end they stand unprotected -- that's the bloom.
-- Eudora Welty to William Maxwell on Jan. 14, 1972

When you analyze one of his stories there is a faint double exposure: I see you seeing him. And it is doubly moving.
-- William Maxwell to Eudora Welty on Sept. 17, 1977, on an essay she wrote about Chekhov

And this after they have been writing to each other for more than 30 years. It's a balm to read such lovely things that they say to each other, and makes me wish I could drop everything else and spend the rest of the summer not in studies for work, but in the writings of Welty and Maxwell. But some day ...

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