In March of 1933, a twenty-three-year-old Eudora Welty who was a couple of weeks out of college and six weeks in New York at the time wrote a charming letter to the offices of The New Yorker to apply for a job. She starts:
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.
Then talks a bit about herself:
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.
And about what she could do for The New Yorker with enthusiasm:
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.
It was a clever letter, but it failed to make an impression. They turned her down.
Welty went on to become a short story writer and novelist and to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1973 for her novel The Optimist's Daughter. She also wrote numerous pieces for The New Yorker, and seven years after receiving the Pulitzer, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom—the highest civilian award in the United States—for her contribution to cultural endeavors.
Her letter is part of What There is to Say We Have Said, which collects the correspondence between Welty and William Maxwell, who was the fiction editor of The New Yorker from 1936-1975. Their correspondence lasted fifty years.
In her book On Writing, Welty says, “All serious daring starts from within.” She also adds something that many great writers say, “Indeed, learning to write may be part of learning to read. For all I know, writing comes out of a superior devotion to reading.”
[Eudora Welty autographing books. Photo by Terry James, 1984]