Tift's latest Oxford American essay focuses on Eudora Welty's enduring influence.
When someone asks me who my first influences were, I cringe a little—not because it is a cliché question, but because it is almost uncomfortable to conjure how vulnerable I was when I first needed a hero. Heroes are no trite matter—people worth looking up to are important at any age. Adult influences wield less power; we come to them more fully formed, with harder edges and less need. Those first heroes are mentors, confidants, complete relationships in their one-sided way. Not unlike first loves, they hold that most delicate of heartstrings: hope. Hope for the future, for what love is capable of, what words are capable of, what we ourselves are capable of. My first hero is, always, Eudora Welty.
I never met Eudora; I never even so much as had dinner in the same room with her or saw her pass on the street. I can’t remember when I first read “Why I Live at the P.O.,” but I recognized myself and my intense Southern family immediately in the cadence, the temper tantrums, the mess of their befuddled, self-damning characters.