Read A Strange, Elegant, Rule-Breaking Cover Letter From A Great Author Before She Was Famous

weltyBorn in Jackson, Mississippi in 1909, Eudora Welty was one of the greatest writers the American South produced. In 1933, however, she was just a recent college grad, “six weeks on the loose in N.Y.,” and she needed a job. In pursuit of that, she wrote one of the most charming cover letters I’ve ever read. That letter to the New Yorker breaks all the rules of cover letters: It’s too long, it meanders far from her accomplishments and qualifications, she makes a cheesy pun, she insults her most recent job, and she speaks openly of needing money. But it’s also beautiful and intriguing, and she promises “I would work like a slave,” which every employer wants to hear.

An excerpt:

I am 23 years old, six weeks on the loose in N.Y. However, I was a New Yorker for a whole year in 1930-31 while attending advertising classes in Columbia’s School of Business. Actually I am a southerner, from Mississippi, the nation’s most backward state. Ramifications include Walter H. Page, who, unluckily for me, is no longer connected with Doubleday-Page, which is no longer Doubleday-Page, even. I have a B.A. (’29) from the University of Wisconsin, where I majored in English without a care in the world. For the last eighteen months I was languishing in my own office in a radio station in Jackson, Miss., writing continuities, dramas, mule feed advertisements, santa claus talks, and life insurance playlets; now I have given that up.

She didn’t get the job, despite warning in the letter that “there is no telling where I may apply, if you turn me down.” More’s the pity for the New Yorker, but everything worked out fine for young Ms. Welty in the end. She would go on to win a Pulitzer Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and many, many other awards. Oh, and she also had seven short stories published in the New Yorker.

You can read the full letter at the great Letters of Note.

Photo: Books as Food

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    • Frances Locke

      Love this.