WELTY, RICHARD WRIGHT & MARGARET WALKER ALEXANDER
Margaret Walker Alexander
The night sky over my childhood
Jackson was velvety black. I could see the full constellations in it
and call their names; when I could read, I knew their myths.
Eudora Welty, One Writer's Beginnings.
Eudora Welty was born in a
house on North Congress Street in 1909. The state's capitol building
separated her childhood home from the Carnegie Library. "Through the
Capitol" became Eudora's route to the library: You could glide
through it on your bicycle or even coast through on roller skates,
though without family permission. Eudora's mother gave very liberal
instructions to Carnegie's feared librarian,
Mrs. Calloway: Eudora
is nine years old and has my permission to read any book she wants
from the shelves, children or adult.
In 1936, when she was
twenty-seven, Eudora Welty published her first short story. By the
1940s, she was receiving major literary prizes for her fiction. She
won the Pulitzer Prize for The Optimist's Daughter, an
autobiographical novel published in 1972. Welty's home of
seventy-six years on Pinehurst Street is one of the nation's most
intact literary house museums. She lived in the house when her first
book A Curtain of Green was published in 1941, and the house
preserves how Welty lived until her death at 92 in 2001.
experiences in Jackson, where he lived in the home of a strict
grandmother during his adolescence, are recounted in his memoir
Black Boy. Wright did not receive the encouragement to read that was
lavished upon Welty. When a young schoolteacher, who boarded with
the Wrights, was caught sharing Bluebeard and His Seven Wives
young Richard, she was promptly thrown out of the house. Wright's
grandmother set all the rules about fiction and fantasy in her
Jackson domain: I want none of that Devil stuff in my house!
Margaret Walker Alexander
worked with Richard Wright on several of his texts, and in 1988, she
published Richard Wright, Daemonic Genius: A Portrait of the Man, A
Critical Look at His Work. Alexander, using the pen name Margaret
Walker, wrote Jubilee, a 1966 novel based upon stories of slavery
passed down to her. The heroine Vyry is based upon Alexander's great
grandmother. In her forward to the novel, Alexander thanks Jackson
State College who permitted her leave from a teaching job to write
Jubilee. Today, the Margaret Walker Alexander National Research
Center at Jackson State University preserves African American
history through archival records and "living memories."
Eudora Welty called Jackson
"a region to itself." During the Civil War, Union forces under
General Sherman burned and looted Jackson, a railroad hub for the
Confederacy. The Civil War left few antebellum structures in Jackson
other than the Governor's Mansion and the Old Capitol building ---
an early 20th Century playground for Eudora Welty.
The Margaret Walker Alexander National
Center is located in historic Ayer Hall on the
campus of Jackson State University
Church in downtown Jackson
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