Sunday, March 1, 2009


Nan at Letters from a Hill Farm said she would devote the month of April to reading Eudora Welty. I have a treasured copy of "The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty" that I bring out from time to time to re-read some favorites. Her vision is sweet by nature, and she writes with a fine, pure, and gentle voice about the American South. This year will be her 100th birthday

I posted an entry in My Reading Diary a few years ago, and mentioned her connection to the email system that bears her name

The Birth of Eudora

Originally developed as a freeware product by Internet pioneer Steve Dorner in 1988, Eudora broke new ground by combining the best attributes of various emerging email technologies. The program did not spring from a traditional center of high-tech innovation such as the Silicon Valley, but rather, from a college campus in the nation's heartland.

Eudora was developed by Steve Dorner at the University of Illinois, where Mosaic was also eventually developed. Dorner was a computer programmer working on TCP/IP (transmission control protocol/Internet protocol) applications and servers for the computer science department on the Urbana-Champaign campus. This was his first exposure to Internet protocols, chiefly file transfer protocol (ftp) and telnet, before he moved on to developing "ph" for Net directories.

After growing bored with building directories, Dorner turned his attention to email. Although electronic messaging was still in its infancy, Dorner realized that an elegant email system could greatly enhance and facilitate communications among students and faculty on campus.

The Name

After working on the new email program for a year, Dorner was ready to release it for free to the Internet community at large. The working name was UIUCMail, which Dorner realized was a tongue twister. Then he remembered a short story written by Eudora Welty (1909-2001) titled "Why I Live at the P.O." It's a story about a woman who decides to live at the post office where she works rather than put up with her family at home any longer. Dorner was processing so much email at the time that he felt like he lived at the post office, and his program used a "post office" protocol to fetch mail, so he saw a metaphorical connection. Since the programming and naming took place a decade ahead of the phenomenal growth of the Internet, Dorner hadn't anticipated Eudora would eventually be used by more than 20 million people.

Naming the program after a living author could have become awkward for Dorner and any future licensees. Fortunately, Ms. Welty was flattered and amused by the allusion to her and her work.

I love this anecdote about Eudora Welty and the email system ... it's the same one I've been using for many years now

A short story writer and novelist, Eudora Welty wrote poignantly about the men and women of her native American South, the traditions and changes that influenced their lives, the intricacies of their relationships and their difficulties and failures in understanding themselves and communicating with each other, passed away on July 23, 2001.

Miss Welty and other Southern writers of her generation such as William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Allen Tate, Tennessee Williams and Robert Penn Warren, were key figures in the movement that created a Southern literary renaissance during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s and made Southern writing a dominant force in 20th century American literature.

1 comment:

Nan said...

Oh, was this ever interesting! I love the way he thought of the name. Thanks so much for writing it. Such an unusual name, isn't it. I knew a Dora, but never a Eudora. Lots of names like that. I'm reading a biography of Longfellow, and his mother's name was Zilpah, and her father's was Peleg!

All those southern authors had a touch of the Gothic, and though occasionally I've seen it in her work, she generally doesn't have that 'creepy' quality. I'm looking forward to my month with her, esp. since I'd really like to be in Mississippi to celebrate!!