Eighty years ago Friday, young Eudora Welty sent a letter to the New Yorker seeking employment. This was four decades before she would win the Pulitzer Prize for her novel “The Optimist’s Daughter” and five decades before “The Collected Works of Eudora Welty” won a National Book Award -- but she showed tremendous promise, writerly skill and lighthearted charm.
Here’s a portion:
“I am 23 years old, six weeks on the loose in N.Y. However, I was a New Yorker for a whole year in 1930-31 while attending advertising classes in Columbia’s School of Business. Actually I am a southerner, from Mississippi, the nation’s most backward state....I have a B.A. ('29) from the University of Wisconsin, where I majored in English without a care in the world. For the last eighteen months I was languishing in my own office in a radio station in Jackson, Miss., writing continuities, dramas, mule feed advertisements, santa claus talks, and life insurance playlets; now I have given that up.
“As to what I might do for you — I have seen an untoward amount of picture galleries and 15¢ movies lately, and could review them with my old prosperous detachment, I think; in fact, I recently coined a general word for Matisse’s pictures after seeing his latest at the Marie Harriman: concubineapple. That shows you how my mind works — quick, and away from the point. I read simply voraciously, and can drum up an opinion afterwards.
“Since I have bought an India print, and a large number of phonograph records from a Mr. Nussbaum who picks them up, and a Cezanne Bathers one inch long (that shows you I read e. e. cummings I hope), I am anxious to have an apartment, not to mention a small portable phonograph. How I would like to work for you!”
There’s more; the complete letter is up at Letters of Note, the brilliant British literary blog that unearths, well, letters of note. Moving, funny, fascinating: The letters he finds demonstrate just how much we’re losing by abandoning our epistolary past. A Letters of Note book is coming out later this year in England -- won’t someone make it happen in America, too?
As for Welty -- while her future was bright, it was not to be with the New Yorker. The magazine, unfathomably, did not hire her.