Author Eudora Welty collection visits MTSU Walker Library April 4-May 4

From a friendship with Murfreesboro’s Dr. J. Lee Owen and his wife, Sophia, MTSU’s Susan Lyons learned about the Owens’ collection of celebrated author Eudora Welty’s works that has led to it being placed on campus for a 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 from April 4 to 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 To learn about visitor parking regulations, including free parking, purchasing a one-day parking permit and more, visit

Welty (1909-2001), a short story writer and novelist who lived her entire life in Jackson, Mississippi, wrote about the American South. Her works included “The Optimist’s Daughter,” published in 1972 and earning a Pulitzer Prize in 1973.

After college, she worked in radio, wrote society columns for the Memphis Commercial Appeal and took photographs as a junior publicity agent for the Works Progress Administration that were exhibited in New York, but not published at her request. Her first publication was a short story, “Death of a Traveling Salesman,” the first of many writings.

An opening event for the MTSU exhibit will celebrate the arrival of the collection of virtually all first editions and be held from 2 to 3:30 p.m.Tuesday, April 4, in library Room 462. A reception will follow in Special Collections.

Following remarks by library Dean Bonnie Allen, University Honors College associate dean Philip Phillips will introduce J. Lee Owen, who will present “On Collecting Welty,” and Michael Kreyling, professor emeritus of English at Vanderbilt University, an authority on Welty’s life and works, who will present “Eudora Welty’s Literary Career.”

“Eudora Welty is recognized as one of the great southern authors and one of the most significant writers of the 20th century,” said Phillips. He recently went to Jackson with Megan Donelson, a doctoral English student from Wooster, Ohio, and co-curator with Phillips, 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 (small town Mississippi) 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.”

Donelson, who has studied museum exhibit design as an MTSU graduate student, calls it “a really impressive collection — that expresses Welty was not just a great writer, but that she had deep, loyal friendships and a great sense of humor.”

Lyons has known the Owens for two years, meeting them through a monthly technology program Honors College students voluntarily 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, the Honors College dean.

  1. 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.

It is 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

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