by Web on November 14, 2017
A life-size sculpture of beloved writer Eudora Welty, commissioned by two Millsaps College alumni and created by an alumnus, was unveiled and dedicated on Nov. 13 at the College.
Given in honor of Dr. Suzanne Marrs, emerita professor of English at Millsaps and a noted Welty scholar, the sculpture depicts Welty seated on a bench holding a copy of “The Optimist’s Daughter,” the 1973 novel for which she won a Pulitzer Prize.
“A member of the Millsaps Board of Trustees, an adjunct faculty member, and honorary degree recipient, Miss Welty was a frequent presence on the Millsaps campus, just a few blocks from her residence,” said Dr. Robert W. Pearigen, president of Millsaps College, during the dedication. “Countless visiting writers such as Ann Patchett, Elizabeth Spencer, Ralph Eubanks, Richard Ford, to name just a few recent visitors, all speak of Miss Welty’s profound influence on their work and her spirit that they feel when they’re here on campus.
“Noted photographer and editor Tom Rankins said in a recent visit to Millsaps, ‘Here we are in Eudora Welty’s town at an institution that in large part is hers.’ Given her close relationship to the College, and the admiration generations of Millsaps students, faculty, and staff had and continue to have for Miss Welty, it is only fitting that we have a visible and permanent reminder of her warm and inspiring relationship with Millsaps College.”
Tim and Jean Medley, both of whom attended Millsaps and are longtime supporters of the College, funded the sculpture that is located on campus in the Nicholson Garden on the north side of the Christian Center.
The Medleys commissioned Ben Watts, a 1980 graduate of Millsaps who created the John Wesley sculpture that overlooks the Bowl, to produce the Welty sculpture.
Speaking during the dedication, Mary Alice Welty White, a niece of Welty, said Marrs has played an important role in preserving the legacy of Welty.
“The first person that comes to anyone’s mind if you have a question about Eudora or her story is Suzanne Marrs,” she said. “Eudora’s stories and her novels became Suzanne’s life’s work, but, more than that, Suzanne and Eudora became very good friends.”
Marrs, a professor at Millsaps for 27 years, said it is fitting that Welty, one of the 20th Century’s most accomplished writers, is honored in sculpture on campus.
During the dedication, Marrs thanked the Medleys for commissioning Watts to create the sculpture and for dedicating it in her honor. She also thanked the Eudora Welty Foundation, White, and other members of the Welty family for endorsing the project.
Marrs expressed gratitude to the College for giving her the opportunity to teach Welty’s fiction, which allowed her to encounter many students who taught her new ways to interpret Welty’s work. She also recalled Welty as her friend, as a writer who produced magnificent stories and novels, and the person she admires most.
“I am deeply grateful if my scholarship and teaching have benevolently brought Welty’s fiction into the lives of those who might not otherwise have encountered it and if my work has enhanced the understanding and pleasure with which Welty is read,” Marrs said.