Anne Tyler and Eudora Welty

Anne Tyler discovered the writing of Eudora Welty when she was 14-years-old in her school library in 1955. The book was Welty's collection of stories, The Wide Net. Tyler reflects:

“I can even name the line. It's the one where she says Edna Earle is so dim she could spend all day pondering on how the little tail on the 'C' got through the 'L' in a Coca-Cola sign. I knew many Edna Earles. I didn't know you could write about them.”

Anne Tyler is now 76-years-old and her twenty-second novel, Clock Dance, will publish in July. Over the years, Tyler has endeared millions of readers with her characters living the very ordinary lives most of us lead. We, readers, feel our heart swell with the recognition that we are not alone in our triumphs and disappointments with family and friends. In the Pulitzer Prize-winning Breathing Lessons (1988), a couple turns an unremarkable day-long drive into a revealing journey that strengthens their bond. In Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (1982), three grown-up siblings express their longing for the “perfect” family and the heartache of loss; Eudora Welty talked about Anne Tyler's last sentence in Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant:

“If I had written that sentence, I'd be happy all my life!”
(Yale Review 1984, “A Visit with Eudora Welty” by Barbara Lazear Ascher)

All of Anne Tyler's novels demonstrate what she learned at a young age: “Reading Eudora Welty when I was growing up showed me that very small things are often really larger than the large things . . . I'm very interested in day-to-day endurance. And I'm very interested in space around people. The real heroes to me in my books are the first ones who manage to endure and second the ones who somehow are able to grant other people the privacy of the space around them and yet still produce warmth.”

Anne Tyler has never been a touring author, and she gives very few interviews. Understandably, she finds the spotlight distracting and incongruous with writing. Although she has roots in North Carolina, her space has been a modest house in the city of Baltimore, Maryland.

Anne Tyler wrote about her 1980 visit with Eudora Welty at her home in Jackson in preparation for the essay that would appear in the New York Times:

“She lives in one of those towns that seems to have outgrown themselves overnight, sprouting—on reclaimed swamp—a profusion of modern hospitals and real estate offices, travel agencies and a Drive-Thru-Beer Barn. (She can remember, she says, when Jackson, Miss., was so small that you could go on foot anywhere you wanted: On summer evenings you'd pass the neighbors' lawn scented with petunias, hear their pianos through the open windows. Everybody's life was more accessible.)”

On a recent cool April evening, Charles Frazier, author of Cold Mountain, sat on Miss Welty's porch with conversation partner, Holly Lange. The audience was attentive in chairs on the lawn, the walk to the front porch winding in between listeners, and Sal, the Welty House cat, arranged comfortably, as one of us, on a listener's bag in the grass. Once we got settled in with sounds of the Belhaven neighborhood around us, we listened to Charles Frazier talk about the subject of his latest novel, Varina, the wife of Jefferson Davis. I think Anne Tyler and Eudora Welty would have been pleased with our gathering and the space around us.

This year Anne Tyler's long-time publisher, Knopf, is releasing new Vintage paperback editions of all of her novels, giving her fans a great excuse to remember why they fell in love with her stories in the first place or a way for new readers to discover why Anne Tyler is one of America's most enduring writers.

Written by Lisa Newman, Lemuria Bookseller
Originally publisher in The Clarion-Ledger May 6, 2018