Dr. J. Lee Owen reminisced about his passion for searching for and collecting vintage books, especially first edition print copies by southern author Eudora Welty from his hometown of Jackson, Mississippi.
Michael Kreyling, professor emeritus of English at Vanderbilt University, squeezed decades of research and insight regarding Welty, who wrote about the American South, especially her native Mississippi, into a captivating 40-minute talk.
Owen, Kreyling and others spoke on the occasion of the opening of the “Eudora Welty: Her Life and Legacy” exhibit that will continue through Thursday, May 4, in Special Collections, Room 444, in and the James E. Walker Library.
The exhibit is free and open to the public. To find the library and nearby parking, visit http://tinyurl.com/MTSUParkingMap. To learn about visitor parking regulations, including free parking in the Rutherford lots, purchasing a one-day parking permit and more, visit http://www.mtsu.edu/parking/visitors.php.
Owen and his wife, Sophia, who live in Murfreesboro, knew Welty, who died in 2001. J. Lee Owen, a pediatrician in Jackson for 50 years, became charmed with her works.
“Miss Welty was a wonderful and gifted Mississippi lady,” Owen said. “… She got everything (award-wise) except one thing — a Nobel Prize — and she should’ve gotten that.”
He shared a story of attending a used book sale and finding a signed, first edition Welty book. The price marked was $2.
“I thought I’d found a pot of gold,” said Owen, knowing the true value of the book. He quickly grabbed some cookbooks for his wife, and in the final exchange needed one more item to finish the $13.75 transaction he paid with in cash. “I bought a $3,500 book for $2 and a (25-cent) doughnut.”
After being introduced by Honors College associate dean Philip Phillips, Kreyling told the audience, “I wish I could’ve found that book.” Owen’s quick response: “Everything has a price.” It generated laughter from attendees.
Kreyling, who met Welty for the first time in 1973, retraced the author’s career through research-based stories and online images from the 1930s forward.
“She was just like a (regular) person more than a (famous) author,” he said.
Walker Library Dean Bonnie Allen said she is just thrilled the collection was made available for 30 days.
“I hope our students take advantage of this excellent opportunity,” she said. “It’s a valuable collection of a southern author and a great one at that.”
Phillips recognized the efforts of his research assistant, Megan Donelson, a doctoral English student from Wooster, Ohio, who was co-curator with him, and Susan Lyons, who befriended the Owens and learned about the Welty collection.
Laura Owen of Nashville and Margaret Showalter of Murfreesboro, two of the Owens’ four children, attended the opening event.
The exhibit is sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts, Department of English, Honors College and Walker Library.
— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)
Eudora Welty collection visits Walker Library through May 4
From a friendship with physician J. Lee Owen and his wife, Sophia, MTSU’s Susan Lyons learned about the Owens’ collection of celebrated author Eudora Welty’s works. Now the Owens have brought the collection to campus for a free, public 30-day exhibit.
“Eudora Welty: Her Life and Legacy,” a special exhibition of rare materials from J. Lee Owen’s Welty collection, will be on display from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday through May 4 in Special Collections, Room 444, in the James E. Walker Library.
Welty, a short story writer and novelist who lived her entire life (1909-2001) in Jackson, Mississippi, wrote about the American South. Her works included “The Optimist’s Daughter,” which was published in 1972 and earned a Pulitzer Prize in 1973.
After college, Welty worked in radio, wrote society columns for the Memphis Commercial Appeal and took photographs as a junior publicity agent for the Works Progress Administration. The photos were exhibited in New York but weren’t published, at her request.
Her first publication of many was a short story, “Death of a Traveling Salesman.”
An opening event held April 4 featured presentations by Owen and Michael Kreyling, professor emeritus of English at Vanderbilt University and an authority on Welty’s life and works.
“Eudora Welty is recognized as one of the great Southern authors and one of the most significant writers of the 20th century,” said University Honors College associate dean Philip Phillips.
He recently went to Jackson with co-curator Megan Donelson, a doctoral English student from Wooster, Ohio, and Lyons, the Honors College’s special events coordinator, to visit the archives, secure photographs and gain additional background for the MTSU exhibit.
“She is best known for her short stories and her novels, including ‘The Optimist’s Daughter,’ a semi-autobiographical work,” he added.
Phillips said the MTSU exhibit “aims to showcase the variety of other work, which also includes original photographs and provides an overview of her life and influences.”
“It’s a really impressive collection that expresses Welty not just as a great writer, but that she had deep, loyal friendships and a great sense of humor,” said Donelson, who has studied museum exhibit design as an MTSU graduate student.
Lyons has known the Owens for two years, meeting them through a monthly technology program Honors College students attend.
“Dr. Owen shared with me about his Eudora Welty collection and introduced me to her stories,” Lyons said. “I knew the collection was special, so I shared about it with Drs. Phillips and (John) Vile.” She eventually introduced Owen to Phillips and Vile, dean of the Honors College.
Lee Owen was a pediatrician in Jackson, Mississippi, for 50 years before he and his wife moved to Murfreesboro.
The exhibit is sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts, Department of English, Honors College and Walker Library in partnership with Eudora Welty LLC and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
For information about Special Collections, contact Alan Boehm, Special Collections librarian, at 615-904-8501 or Alan.Boehm@mtsu.edu.
— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)