Karen Redhead leads one of the most intact literary house museums in the country. She is director of the Eudora Welty House, the home where Pulitzer Prize-winning author Eudora Welty lived from 1925 until her death in 2001, and where she wrote nearly her entire body of work. Welty served as writer-in-residence at Millsaps during the mid-1960s and was an emerita member of the College's board of trustees.
"As a former educator, one of the things I love about the Welty House is that it was the home of a reader," said Redhead, a student at Millsaps from 1970 to 1972 and president of the Millsaps Alumni Council from 2000 until 2002. "In every room there are books. Eudora said in One Writer's Beginnings, at the age of two or three, she learned that every room in the house is a place to read or to be read to. In today's world that is such an important thing."
Restored by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and opened as a museum in April 2006, the Welty House has attracted visitors from all 50 states and 33 foreign countries. It is located at 1119 Pinehurst St., about three-fourths of a mile from Millsaps in the Belhaven neighborhood. Tours are scheduled Tuesday through Friday at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m. by reservation.
Redhead's job calls for her to administer operations of the house from its policies and budget to its preservation, interpretation, and educational programs. She also serves as a public relations representative for the museum and works with the Eudora Welty Foundation and the National Advisory Board.
Redhead is well prepared for her job, having worked with Mary Alice White, niece of Welty and the museum's first director, until she retired. Redhead taught Mississippi history and social studies at Murrah High School in Jackson before joining the Welty House staff in 2004. Redhead's Millsaps ties are strong - Ezelle Hall was named after her grandfather - but she is not the only one with connections to Millsaps at the Welty House.
Elaine Blaine, a member of the Millsaps Class of 2008, is the education and administrative assistant at the Welty House. Katie Hamm graduated from Millsaps in 2009, and as special projects coordinator, works with the docents at the house.
Among the many docents with Millsaps ties are Alec Valentine, B.A. 1968, and Beverly Fatherree, B.A. 1973, who both teach English at Hinds Community College. Docent Lee Anne Bryan, B.A. 1993, studied with Dr. Suzanne Marrs, Welty Foundation scholar-in-residence at Millsaps, and worked at the Welty House for about two years. Other Millsaps alumni connected to the Welty House include Hank Holmes, B.A. 1973, director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History; Jeanne Luckett, B.A. 1966, and Kay Barksdale, B.A. 1964, who are associated with the Eudora Welty Foundation, as well as William Jeanes, B.A. 1959, who currently serves as a member of the Welty Foundation Board.
Valentine is well versed as a docent about Welty thanks in part to a short story writing class that he took at Millsaps that Welty taught. The house is about as close to Welty as anyone can get, he said. "It's as if she just walked out the door," he said.
Redhead, Hamm, and Blaine all say that Millsaps instilled in them an appreciation for the things they would later work to preserve at the Welty House. "I had a love of reading, but I didn't have a love of writing when I got to Millsaps," said Hamm. "Working in the Writing Center at Millsaps was such an important experience for my development as a writer. Then to come here, where reading and writing are such a way of life - I couldn't have found a better fit."
Blaine was influenced by Millsaps to combine literature and work. "I had a whole other career in business, but I had always loved literature. It was an honor for me to attend Millsaps, and I feel fortunate to be here at the Welty House."
The favorite area of the house for many of the visitors and for Blaine is also one of the most personal: Welty's bedroom, specifically the writing desk by the window facing the Belhaven College campus. "I have a sense of her more in that room than anywhere else in the house," said Blaine.
Whether greeting a London reporter who is stopping in Jackson just to visit the home, leading a writer from Los Angeles on a tour, or adjudicating entries for the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, work at the Welty House is never boring, Redhead said. "It is a privilege," she said, "to share the place where one of the 20th century's greatest writers lived and worked. People visit the Welty House for different reasons, but we hope they all leave inspired to pursue their own creative endeavors."