Serious Daring


The Fiction and Photography of Eudora Welty and Rosamond Purcell
Susan Letzler Cole
170 pages, 37 photographs
6″ x 9″
978-1-68226-011-1 (cloth)
November 2016


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Serious Daring is the story of the complementary journeys of two American women artists, celebrated fiction writer Eudora Welty and internationally acclaimed photographer Rosamond Purcell, each of whom initially practiced, but then turned from, the art form ultimately pursued by the other.

For both Welty and Purcell, the art realized is full of the art seemingly abandoned. Welty’s short stories and novels use images of photographs, photographers, and photography. Purcell photographed books, texts, and writing. Both women make compelling art out of the seeming tension between literary and visual cultures. Purcell wrote a memoir in which photographs became endnotes. Welty re-emerged as a photographer through the publication of four volumes of what she called her “snapshots,” magnificent black-and-white photographs of small-town Mississippi and New York City life.

Serious Daring is a fascinating look at how the road not taken can stubbornly accompany the chosen path, how what is seemingly left behind can become a haunting and vital presence in life and art.

Susan Letzler Cole is professor of English and director of the Concentrations in Creative Writing and Dramatic Studies at Albertus Magnus College. She is the author of The Absent One: Mourning Ritual, Tragedy, and the Performance of Ambivalence; Directors in Rehearsal: A Hidden World; Playwrights in Rehearsal: The Seduction of Company; and Missing Alice: In Search of a Mother’s Voice.

“This book brings together two visionary modern artists of word and image by means of a link both ingenious and mysteriously actual: their mirror-image career trajectories towards and away from the photograph, Welty’s abandonment of photography for the language of fiction and Purcell’s of fictional prose for the language of light. Susan Cole surges on a wave of insight, from image to image, verbal and photographic, in an offer of gorgeous phrases and visual motifs. I found myself mourning, by the end, the fact that the two soul-sisters never met. But Cole brings them as close as they can get, and in this book she exercises an art of her own: as silver-tongued critic and hawk-eyed observer she is an artist’s dream, in any medium, come true. Serious Daring, full of mesmerizing photographs, startling similes, and dynamic ekphrasis (in both directions!), squares the pleasure of our gaze at these two artists whose gift from the start—unlike some gifts of the modernist magi—was wonder.”
Mary Baine Campbell, Brandeis University, author of Wonder and Science and The Witness and the Other World

Serious Daring offers a vivid portrait of two remarkable individuals whose passion for photography and writing have overlapped in fascinating ways. A powerful meditation on the nature of visual and verbal thinking, this book will no doubt inspire further thinking about both Eudora Welty and Rosamond Purcell. But it will also serve as a guide for readers, writers, and artists who want to understand more about how pictures tell stories, and how stories lead us to imagine — sometimes in the most concrete ways—the world in and around us.”
—Michael Witmore, Folger Shakespeare Library, author of Shakespearean Metaphysics

In Serious Daring, the interplay between the visual and narrative imagination is nuanced and illuminating. Attentive and informed, Susan Cole reads each through the other in the work of Eudora Welty and Rosamond Purcell, and in the process makes telling points about the artists as well as the expressive possibilities of image and word.”
—Sven Birkerts, Bennington College, author of Changing the Subject: Art and Attention in the Internet Age

“The conceit of this book, written with conviction and supported by careful analysis of the color and black-and-white images, is to juxtapose two approximately contemporaneous artists who never met, write Eudora Welty (1909-2001) and photographer Rosamond Purcell (b. 1942). … Included are excellent (though small) reproductions of images and insightful chapter notes and bibliography.”

Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper division undergraduates through faculty and professionals; general readers.

—J. Natal, Choice, June 2017

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