Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Georgia's Flannery O'Connor

This week is an important one in the history of American literature. In the span of two days, it contains three birthdays, that of the poet, Robert Frost, the playwright and author, Tennessee Williams, and the outstanding fiction writer, Flannery O'Connor. Today we'll review O'Connor. 

Mary Flannery O'Connor, First Communion Day, 1932

She was born in Savannah on March 25, 1925, and spent her early childhood as a devout Catholic there in a home on Lafayette Square.  The square features moss-draped live oaks, colorful azaleas, and abundance of birds, all sitting in the shadows of the towering spires of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.   Things haven't changed much in this beautiful space. It still has its interesting spectrum of regular visitors: fast-walking pedestrians, lovers holding hand, lunch hour diners, retirees enjoying the benches, touring families, people waiting for the bus, runners and bikers, and playing children. And every day as they have for 120 years, the cathedral bells remind the people of God's grace and their obligations as His children. I think as long as you can visit Lafayette Square, say on a pleasant Sunday afternoon, you can know O'Connor well.

Her family moved to Atlanta in 1938, where her father was diagnosed with lupus, a chronic disease involving the destruction of healthy tissue by the body's immune system.  Soon after they moved 100 miles southeast to her mother's family home in Milledgeville.  When her father died in 1941, O'Connor moved a few miles north of town to her uncle's farm where she lived with her mother. Eventually, the farm would be called Andalusia, and it would become a refuge following her own diagnosis with lupus in 1950. At Andalusia, she would weave her experiences and memories of  people, ethics, morals, and religion into some of America's finest literature. 

O'Connor house at Andalusia 

At Andalusia she would write her novels, Wise Blood, and The Violent Bear It Away, along with scores of short stories published in two collections in her lifetime, A Good Man Is Hard To Find, and Everything That Rises Must Converge. Her Complete Stories appeared posthumously in 1971.

O'Connor's bedroom-office at Andalusia

In 1964 lupus took Flannery O'Connor from us in her 39th year. You can visit both her childhood home and Andalusia thanks to foundations that preserve the landscapes and memories she cherished. And, thanks to her, you can visit the South anytime by simply opening one of her books. 

Writers who see by the light of their Christian faith will have, in these times, the sharpest eye for the grotesque, for the perverse, and for the unacceptable. To the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.


Childhood photo, Andalusia Farm, Inc. Photo courtesy of the Flannery O'Connor Collection,           Georgia College and State University, Milledgeville, Georgia.
Bedroom, photo courtesy of Emily Elizabeth Beck
Adult portrait,

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