Today in Literary History – March 25, 1925 – Flannery O’Connor is born

Flannery O’Connor, the American short story writer and novelist, was born on March 25, 1925. She lived most of her life in Georgia, although she took breaks to study at the University of Iowa’s prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop and spent time at the Yaddo writers colony in Saratoga Springs, New York.

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O’Conner suffered from lupus, the same painful autoimmune disease that killed her father at a young age. She spent her final years on a farm in Georgia, where she raised birds, in particular dozens of her beloved peacocks and peahens. She spent time writing every day but was often in great pain and only able to walk short distances with the help of crutches. She died in 1964 at the age of 39, having outlived her doctor’s prognosis by 5 years.

O’ Connor was a very devout Catholic and most of her stories revolve around some form of grace or divine acceptance. She is usually regarded as a “Southern Gothic” writer, although she said sardonically “anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.”

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Most of her characters are Protestant Southerners, some seeking God, some not. For O’Connor the distinction doesn’t really matter. She “knew” so strongly that God existed that it made no difference if you were looking for Him or not, He was still present in your life.

I have now read all of the fiction that she published in her life, which is a smallish output: just 23 short stories and two novels. Everytime I re-read a story I find more layers and more to admire. She can be bitingly satirical and movingly gracious and, yes, to my northern (in fact Canadian) sensibility shockingly grotesque!

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