Baylor Author, Professor of Literature Receives Award for Research and Scholarship on Famed Southern Writer Eudora Welty

October 1, 2018
News - Sarah Ford (front)
Dr. Sarah Ford

Baylor literature professor, Dr. Sarah Ford, has been recognized by the Eudora Welty Society with the organization’s Phoenix Award for 2017-18.

Contact: Whitney Richter, Director of Marketing and Communications, Office of the Vice Provost for Research, 254-710-7539
Written by: Gary Stokes, Office of the Vice Provost for Research

WACO, Texas (October 1, 2018) – Dr. Sarah Gilbreath Ford, Baylor professor of English, recently received the Eudora Welty Society’s biennial Phoenix Award for 2017-18 in recognition of her contributions to Welty scholarship.

“I have, throughout my career, written a series of articles on Welty — academic papers in journals — trying to get more people to read her work, trying to get people to read her work differently,” Ford said. “I think, early on, she got pegged as a Southern writer, writing quaint, funny little stories. So I have worked along with my colleagues in Welty studies to make sure that people see her as a modernist who was interested in experimenting with narrative, who was well versed in all the literary movements of the day. I think she’s much more important — and much more cagey — than we give her credit for.”

Born in 1909 in Jackson, Mississippi, Eudora Welty became one of a handful of acclaimed female writers from the South whose works captured both the charm and the darker sides of Southern life during the early-to-mid 20th Century. She began her career as a photographer, capturing scenes of life in the South during the Great Depression and writing short reports about what she saw for the Works Progress Administration, part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s.

Welty soon turned to writing fiction out of a desire to tell the stories of the subjects of her photographs, producing numerous short stories and five novels over a life than spanned more than 90 years. She won a Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for her novella, The Optimist’s Daughter, and received many other awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Order of the South. In 1998, she became the first living author to have her works published in the highly esteemed Library of America series. Welty died in 2001.

The Eudora Welty Society was established in 1991 and is one of approximately 120 literary organizations within the American Literature Association that promote scholarship on the works of specific authors or genres. Ford joined the Society in 1997 while a graduate student and served as the Society’s president from 2014-2016. Georgia State University publishes the Eudora Welty Review.

“Weltyians,” as the author’s devotees refer to themselves, celebrate her birthday each April 23rd with parties and other informal observances. For her part, Ford bakes a coconut cake similar to one detailed in one of Welty’s novels and shares it with her students. This year, the occasion held a special treat for Ford.

“I had posted on Facebook it was Welty’s birthday, and one of my friends was like, well this is really funny because we’re about to give you a gift on Welty’s birthday. And so they told me on Welty’s birthday that I had won the [Phoenix] award. I actually got a gift on Welty’s birthday!”

The award is named for Phoenix Jackson, the principal character in Welty’s A Worn Path. Ford plans to write a book on Welty in the near future.