MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Dr. J. Lee Owen reminisced about his passion for searching for and collecting vintage books, especially first edition print copies by southern author Eudora Welty from his hometown of Jackson, Mississippi.
Michael Kreyling, professor emeritus of English at Vanderbilt University, squeezed decades of research and insight regarding Welty, who wrote about the American South, especially her native Mississippi, into a captivating 40-minute talk.
Owen, Kreyling and others spoke on the occasion of the opening of the “Eudora Welty: Her Life and Legacy” exhibit that will continue through Thursday, May 4, in Special Collections, Room 444, in and the James E. Walker Library.
The exhibit is free and open to the public. To find the library and nearby parking, visit http://tinyurl.com/MTSUParkingMap. To learn about visitor parking regulations, including free parking in the Rutherford lots, purchasing a one-day parking permit and more, visit http://www.mtsu.edu/parking/visitors.php.
Owen and his wife, Sophia, who live in Murfreesboro, knew Welty, who died in 2001. J. Lee Owen, a pediatrician in Jackson for 50 years, became charmed with her works.
“Miss Welty was a wonderful and gifted Mississippi lady,” Owen said. “… She got everything (award-wise) except one thing — a Nobel Prize — and she should’ve gotten that.”
He shared a story of attending a used book sale and finding a signed, first edition Welty book. The price marked was $2.
“I thought I’d found a pot of gold,” said Owen, knowing the true value of the book. He quickly grabbed some cookbooks for his wife, and in the final exchange needed one more item to finish the $13.75 transaction he paid with in cash. “I bought a $3,500 book for $2 and a (25-cent) doughnut.”
After being introduced by Honors College associate dean Philip Phillips, Kreyling told the audience, “I wish I could’ve found that book.” Owen’s quick response: “Everything has a price.” It generated laughter from attendees.
Kreyling, who met Welty for the first time in 1973, retraced the author’s career through research-based stories and online images from the 1930s forward.
“She was just like a (regular) person more than a (famous) author,” he said.
Walker Library Dean Bonnie Allen said she is just thrilled the collection was made available for 30 days.
“I hope our students take advantage of this excellent opportunity,” she said. “It’s a valuable collection of a southern author and a great one at that.”
Phillips recognized the efforts of his research assistant, Megan Donelson, a doctoral English student from Wooster, Ohio, who was co-curator with him, and Susan Lyons, who befriended the Owens and learned about the Welty collection.
Laura Owen of Nashville and Margaret Showalter of Murfreesboro, two of the Owens’ four children, attended the opening event.
The exhibit is sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts, Department of English, Honors College and Walker Library.