Mississippi Department of Archives and History (Jackson, MS)

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Film of Eudora Welty, who served on the NEA’s National Council on the Arts from 1972 to 1978, was recently discovered by NEA staff and donated to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. NEA File Photo

In 1975, writer Eudora Welty sat down in front of filmmaker Richard O. Moore’s camera for five hours and read from her famous short stories. She also talked about the craft of writing and about the rich tradition of writing in the South. From that five hours of footage, Moore selected five minutes of Welty’s voice to include in his NEA-funded documentary, The Writer in America. Then he deposited eight canisters of 16-mm color film into an NEA storage facility.

Those canisters were rediscovered by the NEA’s Media Arts department in 2006 and donated to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. As Chairman Dana Gioia explained when he delivered the canisters to Jackson himself, “It was Miss Welty herself who said, ‘never think you’ve seen the last of anything.’ I’m delighted to say she was right.”

Chairman Gioia called finding the Welty footage “one of the greatest literary discoveries of the last decade.” Along with the film canisters, he presented the Welty House with a $10,000 Chairman’s Extraordinary Action Grant to digitize and preserve the reel-to-reel film.

According to Welty biographer Suzanne Marrs, the NEA donation is the earliest known Welty film of extended length, as well as the only one that captures the author at the manual typewriter where she wrote numerous literary classics.

Mary Alice White, niece of the famed Optimist’s Daughter novelist and director of the Welty House, said the film has since been converted to DVD format. Plans are underway to produce educational guides that would accompany copies of the DVD. Excerpts from the footage also will be shown at the new Welty House Visitor’s Center.

(From the NEA 2006 Annual Report)