Jarrett Zeman, MDAH Museum Division cataloger, brings us this post in an ongoing series about his work on the IMLS project to catalog, photograph, and create digital object records for MDAH’s Museum Division artifacts.
When Welty was ready to turn ideas to prose, she sat herself before the typewriter. Welty preferred using a manual typewriter, like the ones she played with as a child in her father’s office. However, as she aged, arthritis forced her to go electric. Welty used this Smith-Corona Coronomatic 8000 to write The Optimist’s Daughter, though often begrudgingly. Its constant humming made her feel it was “waiting on you to do something.” Welty never used a computer to compose her stories.
To edit a day’s work, Welty retreated downstairs and marked pages in blue pen, as seen here. She often used this gray metal copyholder, a common companion to typewriters, when she needed to retype her edited pages. By lifting the top latch, Welty placed a page into the holder and replaced the latch, which held the paper in place and freed up her hands.
When it came time to edit whole chapters, Welty had a unique technique: she physically cut the pages of her manuscripts apart by paragraphs or sentences, rearranged them in a desired order, and pinned the pieces back together. By using pins instead of staples, she could move the pieces around as much as she liked. In the dining room, visitors can touch reproductions of these unusual pages.
These artifacts provide a glimpse into Welty’s writing process. The craft of writing is a much larger and nuanced process, but without these tools of the trade, Leota would never sit in her beauty parlor; Daniel Ponder would never give away his fortune; Tom Harris would never buy dinner for hobos; nor would we know the other rich characters created by Eudora Welty.