The “Celebrating Eudora” Concert featuring Mary Chapin Carpenter, Claire Holley, Kate Campbell, and Caroline Herring at the Decatur Book Festival did just that: Celebrate. With only one song directly about Eudora Welty, the concert still managed to capture the essence of Welty’s work and existence through musical storytelling based on Southern and feminine experience.

The contradiction between an outsider's perception of Southern history and an insider's Southern experience and feeling reveals itself in Welty’s work and the songs that the women sang. In Kate Campbell’s song “Look Away,” she describes the burning of a mansion in Alabama, and how a non-Southerner would view the mansion as a symbol of hatred, but all she remembers is chasing lightening bugs, non “angry mob[s]” or “cross[es] on fire.” Welty captures the story of the people that as a culture were seen as bigots and racists in her time, but individually the subjects were just people with stories that needed to be told.

Mary Chapin Carpenter sang her song “John Doe No. 24” and noted that what she loves about songwriting is storytelling, and she felt if she could be moved by an obituary for a man with no name and no identity, than his story was worth telling the world. 

Eudora Welty’s stories were of the common people, as was her language, and even though these four musicians did not sing or quote Welty directly, they found stories to tell and that was more powerful than a discussion of why Welty’s work was acclaimed. The music spoke volumes about the identity of Southern women and with each woman coming from a slightly different Southern background, including Mary Chapin Carpenter “the adopted Southerner” of the night, their music linked the stories together and provided moving and enjoyable experience for all of the attendees.  Somehow, the packed event remained intimate and homey, quite the spirit of Miss Eudora herself.

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Emma Kearney is a student aide at the Agnes Scott Writing Center. She's a member of the class of 2013 from Peachtree City, GA.

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