Puget Sound English Department

March 5, 2009

Flannery O’Connor

Filed under: Creative Writing,Literature — upsenglish @ 6:22 pm

everythingthatrisesoconnor1As a native Southerner, I often like to return to the stories of Flannery O’Connor.  Her stories always set the standard of the southern tradition for me, the rich contradictions, complexities and ironies of the New South.  Every time I would go to writing events, famous writers would mention her book of essays:  Mystery and Manners.  I often recommend this book to my Creative Writing students, although I am unsure if they take me up on it.  After all, what does the South have to do with the Pacific Northwest?  Okay, if you are reading this blog post just do one thing for me.  Read the very first essay in the collection:  “The King of the Birds.”  It is about her obsession with peacocks.  And it is fascinating!  Talk about metaphor!  And her talent seems so effortless.  It just may make you keep going.

Now there is a biography out about her life by Brad Gooch.  I find the review of it in the NY Times quite intriguing.  It is one of the better-written NYT reviews.  (It actually makes me want to read the book!)  You must read this review, if only to learn a little something about this fascinating writer. (Click here to read)  Here is a snippet:

Flannery. She liked to drink Coca-Cola mixed with coffee. She gave her mother, Regina, a mule for Mother’s Day. She went to bed at 9 and said she was always glad to get there. After ­Kennedy’s ­assassination she said: “I am sad about the president. But I like the new one.” As a child she sewed outfits for her chickens and wanted to be a ­cartoonist.

And another:

She applied for a Guggenheim several times but never received one. Robert Lowell was her great champion, as were Robert Fitzgerald and Robert Giroux. Godmother to one of the Fitzgeralds’ six children, she could never remember the child’s name. Truman Capote and Tennesse Williams made her “plumb sick.” As for Kafka, she couldn’t read him through and was distressed when compared to him. She also did not care for Carson McCullers.

Oh me, oh my. I must continue:

Although she was a devout Catholic, almost all of her characters, haunted, tested, and redeemed, are Protestant.In her avid reading, she found Protestant theologians superior to Catholic ones, though she was pleased to discover Teilhard de Chardin. She read a lot of theology because she believed it made her writing bolder. When she went to the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa, she said, she “didn’t know a short story from an ad in the newspaper.” Yet she quickly became a star there and “scared the boys to death with her irony,” as a teacher put it.

I hope this blog post has inspired someone to revisit this fascinating writer…

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