Katharine and Eudora

Katharine and Eudora

Katharine and Eudora

Arts and arguments in the news.
July 25 2001 11:30 PM

Katharine and Eudora

Katharine Graham and Eudora Welty

Katharine Graham was one of the 20th century's most influential newspaper proprietors and, as her friend and former colleague at the Washington Post Ben Bradlee said, was also "a spectacular dame." Eudora Welty was an accomplished writer of fiction, a leading light of the Southern literary movement of the 1930s and '40s, as well as a skilled photographer. (Like Walker Evans, she spent several years during the Depression roaming the South, photographing scenes of poverty and despair.) These two famous American women, who died within days of each other, did not seem to have much in common, yet their lives in certain respects were quite similar. Of Welty's life and work Claire Messud says: "She was an author who shied away from the confessional, and who felt strongly that fiction should draw upon life only in oblique ways. She believed that 'your private life should be kept private. My own, I don't think, would particularly interest anybody, for that matter.' Welty was private, indeed, but she was also gracious and entertaining, a renowned anecdotalist and beloved fixture of her native Jackson to the end." ( Anne Tyler's interview with Welty in 1980 confirms that view.) Graham wasn't born in Washington, D.C., but she became a fixture of that town, famous for her anecdotes, and in her autobiography she was as discreet as she was sharp. Moreover, both women lived much of their lives on their own. Graham became head of the Washington Post after her husband's death in 1963 and did not remarry. Welty was unmarried—"Marriage never came up," she once said. That's not to say men weren't a part of these women's lives: On the contrary, men—especially powerful (though not necessarily political) men—gravitated toward them. In Welty's circle there was Allen Tate and William Faulkner. One of Graham's young admirers was Bill Gates; one of Welty's was Steve Dorner, who was moved by Welty's story, " Why I Live at the P.O." to such a degree that he christened his now-popular e-mail program in her honor: Eudora.

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