Ross Macdonald and Eudora Welty met cute in 1970. She was 61; he was 54. She lived in Jackson, Mississippi; he lived 3,000 miles away in Santa Barbara. She was single, a southern-styled Emily Dickinson who guarded her privacy with genteel ferocity. Macdonald was married to mystery writer Margaret Millar, a marriage that was famously fraught. She was soon to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction; his novels were hailed as the apex of the American private-eye genre. Welty greatly admired his work, confessing to the New York Times how she had wanted to send Macdonald a fan letter, but thought it might seem “icky.” Reading this, Macdonald — himself a longtime admirer of Welty’s writing — answered the unsent note. That was May 3, 1970.
It wasn’t exactly love at first post, but eventually they exchanged 435 letters — urgent, tender, and passionate — over a 14-year period. These became the basis of the 2015 book Meanwhile There Are Letters: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and Ross Macdonald, written by the authors’ two award-winning biographers, Suzanne Marrs (Welty) and Tom Nolan (Macdonald). These letters are also the focus of a new play by Irish writer Declan Hughes to be performed — as a reading — this week, courtesy of the UCSB Department of Theater and Dance’s Launch Pad program.
Spoiler alert: Welty and Macdonald never rode off into the sunset together. Over the years, they managed to get some time alone — in New York City, Santa Barbara, and Jackson — but not much and never for long. Theirs was a romance made possible by the U.S. Postal Service. Their letters are dignified, and literary, yet bursting irresistibly with…
click here to read more.