Eudora Welty Biennial Planned for Spring
Starting in April, Jackson, Mississippi’s Welty Biennial will reach for the stars to pay tribute to its hometown author.
“I learned to read by learning the names of the constellations,” Eudora Welty once said. When she was about 6 years old, Welty’s parents gave her a 10-volume set of books titled Our Wonder World. Her favorite part was Every Child’s Story Book because of the fairytales and legends it told. When Welty wasn’t in her room reading, she was outside marveling at the stars in the sky and columned buildings in her neighborhood. It’s this fascination with myth and legend, mythology and astrology that the inaugural Welty Biennial aims to celebrate.
With the theme “Classical Mississippi, the biennial, scheduled for April 10-July 3, 2015, will celebrate Eudora Welty as an American visionary, author, photographer and thinker. “We want to make a point from the beginning that she was a kid in Jackson and just from looking up at the sky, she thought about Greek mythology,” says organizer David Kaplan.
Curator and co-founder of the Tennessee Williams Festival in Provincetown, Massachusetts, Kaplan began adapting Welty’s work for the stage in 1979 with June Recital. In case locals view him as a Yankee come to town, Kaplan says he has nothing but genuine respect for the culture (he put away a plate of fried catfish and grits during a recent stay at the Hilton Garden Inn with no problem) and promises the biennial will not be “reduced to biography. “The presence of classical heritage in Mississippi place names and Greek columns are taken for granted,” he says. “Great Mississippi writers all have an understanding of the classical world.”
Welty fans from the state and beyond will have a chance to celebrate her legacy and learn about the mythical side of their favorite author during the 12 weeks of events. The Mississippi Museum of Art will serve as host for the event, with a show also planned at the Russell C. Davis Planetarium and other things spread throughout town. The front lawn of the museum will set the tone with three 40-foot columns that are representations of Windsor, which Welty photographed and wrote about. Visitors will then walk down a hall of quilts with traditional star patterns, followed by double-exposure images of plantations fallen into ruin by Clarence John Laughlin. An indoor sculpture garden will feature a 44-foot tall reproduction of a pediment from the Mississippi State Capitol, which Welty roller skated under as a child and Kaplan describes as “Mississippi’s answer to the Parthenon.”
Constellation sculptures by Jackson-born James Searight, whose mom went to grammar school with Welty, will also be part of the exhibit, and Welty’s beloved constellations will be shown in the dome at the Davis Planetarium. Other scheduled events include a concert with the symphony that will harken back to the 1940s orchestra Welty heard rehearsing on the Bellhaven campus across the street from her house, a documentary film and a staged reading of “Asphodel” by Olympia Dukakis. Kaplan’s biennial wouldn’t be complete without his production of June Recital, which has been performed by actress Brenda Currin since 1979.
“Eudora Welty’s legacy is an extremely important one to Jackson and to Mississippi,” says Julian Rankin with the Mississippi Museum of Art. “Not only was she a visionary author, photographer and creator in her own right, but she appreciated and was inspired by the historical and cultural diversity around her. The Welty Biennial articulates this recognition of the value of creative expression and embraces the ways in which literature, architecture and art in all its forms help us gain deeper insights into the places we call home.”
The Welty Biennial official kicks off April 10 in Jackson, but Welty fans in New York city can see Olympia Dukakis’s reading of “Asphodel” March 11 at Kaufman Concert Hall. The full biennial schedule hasn’t been announced yet but more information can be found on the website. All events will be free and aim to involve the entire community of Jackson, with photographs encouraged.