Eudora Welty Writes a Quirky Letter Applying for a Job at The New Yorker (1933)

eudora welty

“Eudo­ra Wel­ty is one of the rea­sons that you thank God you know how to read,” writes an online review­er of her auto­bi­og­ra­phy One Writer’s Begin­nings. It’s a sen­ti­ment with which I could not agree more. Whether in mem­oir, short sto­ry, or nov­el, Wel­ty—win­ner of near­ly every lit­er­ary prize save the Nobel—speaks with the most high­ly indi­vid­ual of voic­es. (Wel­ty once told a Paris Review inter­view­er that she doesn’t read any­one for “kin­dred­ness.”) Her prose, so attuned to its own rhythms, so con­fi­dent­ly ven­tur­ing into new realms of thought, seems to sur­prise even her. Indeed, teach­ers of writ­ing could hard­ly do bet­ter than assign Wel­ty to illus­trate the elu­sive con­cept of “voice”—it’s a writer­ly qual­i­ty she mas­tered ear­ly, or per­haps always pos­sessed.

Take the 1933 let­ter below in which she intro­duces her­self, a young post­grad­u­ate of 23, to The New York­er in hopes of secur­ing a posi­tion doing… well, what­ev­er. She pro­pos­es “drum[ming] up opin­ions” on books and film, but only at the rate of “a lit­tle para­graph each morning—a lit­tle para­graph each night” (though she would “work like a slave” if asked). She also offers to replace car­toon­ist (and author of “The Secret Life of Wal­ter Mit­ty”) James Thurber “in case he goes off the deep end.” The let­ter brims with win­some self-con­fi­dence and breezy opti­mism, as well as the unself­con­scious self-aware­ness she makes look so easy: “That shows you how my mind works,” she writes, “quick, and away from the point.” The mag­a­zine staff, points out Shane Par­rish of Far­nam Street, “ignored her plea […] miss­ing the obvi­ous tal­ent,” though of course they would begin pub­lish­ing her sto­ries just a few years lat­er.

Read the let­ter in full below and mar­vel at how any­one could reject such a delight­ful­ly enthu­si­as­tic can­di­date (she would do just fine as a junior “pub­lic­i­ty agent” for the WPA).

March 15, 1933


I sup­pose you’d be more inter­est­ed in even a sleight‑o’-hand trick than you’d be in an appli­ca­tion for a posi­tion with your mag­a­zine, but as usu­al you can’t have the thing you want most.

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. Ram­i­fi­ca­tions include Wal­ter H. Page, who, unluck­i­ly for me, is no longer con­nect­ed with Dou­ble­day-Page, which is no longer Dou­ble­day-Page, even. 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! A lit­tle para­graph each morn­ing — a lit­tle para­graph each night, if you can’t hire me from day­light to dark, although I would work like a slave. I can also draw like Mr. Thurber, in case he goes off the deep end. I have stud­ied flower paint­ing.

There is no telling where I may apply, if you turn me down; I real­ize this will not phase you, but con­sid­er my oth­er alter­na­tive: the U of N.C. offers for $12.00 to let me dance in Vachel Lind­say’s Con­go. I con­go on. I rest my case, repeat­ing that I am a hard work­er.

Tru­ly yours,

Eudo­ra Wel­ty

Welty’s let­ter appears along­side dozens more remark­able mis­sives in the beau­ti­ful new book, Let­ters of Note: An Eclec­tic Col­lec­tion of Cor­re­spon­dence Deserv­ing of a Wider Audi­ence.

via Far­nam Street/Brain Pick­ings

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ralph Wal­do Emer­son Writes a Job Rec­om­men­da­tion for Walt Whit­man (1863)

Read Rejec­tion Let­ters Sent to Three Famous Artists: Sylvia Plath, Kurt Von­negut & Andy Warhol

Gertrude Stein Gets a Snarky Rejec­tion Let­ter from Pub­lish­er (1912)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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