Meanwhile There Are Letters: The Improbable but Intimate Friendship between Eudora Welty and Ross Macdonald
It may come as a surprise—a very pleasant one, to be sure—to many fiction readers that revered American fiction writer Eudora Welty (1909–83) was a great friend of the mystery writer Kenneth Millar (1915–83), who wrote under the name Ross Macdonald. But with Welty ensconced in Jackson, Mississippi, and Millar equally established in Santa Barbara, California, the friendship would seem to be challenged by distance, with face-to-face encounters few and far between. But compensation for their geographically enforced separateness came in the form of frequent letter writing and was offered to them in their deeply personal correspondence, in which their affection—no, actual love—was mutually shared in warmth-soaked prose. “Meanwhile there are letters,” as Millar wrote to Welty; indeed, there are letters, 345 of them gathered here by the two writers’ biographers.
The letters began in 1970, when Millar sent Welty a letter praising her new novel,Losing Battles. A year later, they met for the first time in the lobby of the Algonquin Hotel in New York and sat down to enjoy a lengthy conversation on the spot. Their subsequent correspondence, in the words of the two editors, “reveal[s] the loving friendship of two writers.” The editors posit in their introduction, “Was there an epistolary romance of literary masters in the twentieth century more discrete, intense, heartfelt, and moving?” It is difficult to imagine one.
Loyalty and intimacy obviously lie
beneath the surface of their words.
Writerly concerns, travel experiences, people they knew individually and in common, and the deep appreciation of each for what the other accomplished in their fiction (says Millar to Welty, “You (and Faulkner) have made Mississippi home, or homing, territory for all of us”) represent the surface level of what they talked about. But loyalty and intimacy obviously lie beneath the surface of their words.
Whether read straight through as a narrative or enjoyed over time in short takes, this is a letter collection to be savored.
This review first appeared in the May 1, 2015, issue of Booklist.