Monday, April 1, 2013

A Conversation with Stephen Fuller

Stephen M. Fuller lives in Kathleen, Georgia, and is Associate Professor of English at Middle Georgia State College. Fuller is the author of Eudora Welty and Surrealism – a survey of Welty’s fiction during the most productive period of her long writing life. In a series of close readings that collectively examine A Curtain of Green and Other Stories, The Wide Net and Other Stories, Delta Wedding, The Golden Apples, and The Bride of the Innisfallen and Other Stories, he explores the fundamental role played by surrealism in the formation of the literary perspective of one of the nation’s most celebrated writers. 

Fuller illustrates how the 1930s witnessed surrealism’s arrival in the United States largely through the products of its visual artists and argues that Welty, a frequent traveler to New York City where the surrealists exhibited and a keen reader of magazines and newspapers that acted as focal points for disseminating their work, absorbed and unconsciously appropriated surrealism’s perspective in her writing. 

Below is a conversation with Fuller that covers his inspiration for the topic, other influences on Welty’s writing, and his research. Eudora Welty and Surrealism is now available from UPM.

What inspired you to write this book? 
  • From the moment I began reading Welty’s fiction, the surreal quality of her figurative language always struck me as characteristic of her prose style. The idea of carrying out a long study producing examples and outlining possible causes of these tropes proved too delicious to ignore, especially since little to nothing had been written on this topic. Welty’s cultural sensitivity ranks second-to-none, so to illustrate the way that this intelligence shaped her fiction represented something that had to be added to the scholarship. 
 What influenced Eudora Welty as a young writer? 
  • Many people and things. Of course, I’d have to say surrealism. It’s clear to me that this French movement in the arts played a formative role in Welty’s writing life because the evidence shows that it deeply informed her artistic outlook from the start of her serious writing life. One might also say the secondary role allocated to women and other marginalized people; she lived and wrote against these ingrained habits of thinking and behavior. Besides things, names usually associated with influence include Anton Chekhov, Katherine Anne Porter, and Elizabeth Bowen, although early on Virginia Woolf probably exercised the greatest effect, shown in works like Delta Wedding
If someone is interested in reading Welty’s fiction for the first time, where is a good place to start? 
  • Perhaps begin with any of the stories comprising The Golden Apples. As a whole, the collection produces an effect greater than the sum of its parts, but each part stands independently and shows Welty at her best. Beyond The Golden Apples, I would recommend some of the narratives appearing in The Bride of the Innisfallen, texts such as the title story or “Going to Naples,” because these reflect the writer’s various visits outside the United States. She didn’t only record the life of the South. 
What is the most surprising thing you discovered about Welty during your research? 
  • The degree of Welty’s modesty and reticence are among those things that surprised and continue to surprise me. For instance, I believe that she must have visited the Julien Levy Gallery in New York when her photography went up at the gallery next door in 1936; however, she never mentions the place in interviews or writings, despite the storied role that the gallery played in bringing modern art to American audiences.

    Moreover, when writing the book, I theorized that Welty perhaps saw Salvador Dalí’s surrealist installation appearing at the 1939 New York’s World’s Fair, although the idea represented pure speculation. Nonetheless, leafing through Welty’s correspondence at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History turned up a postcard showing that she did indeed visit the fair; did she see Dalí’s bizarre contribution? The postcard didn’t say and no interview or writing mentions her attendance.

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