Flannery O’Connor is known as being one of the great southern writers to come out of the twentieth century. Here at the Press, we honor her memory and amazing short-story-telling ability every year with the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. In honor of women’s history month, we decided to highlight five facts about Flannery O’Connor that not everyone knows. We were inspired by two of our own books: Creating Flannery O’Connor: Her Critics, Her Publishers, Her Readers by
She was born in Savannah, Ga.
“Mary Flannery O’Connor, born into two of Georgia’s oldest Catholic families, was both a woman of her time and place and an outsider by inclination and by choice. At the time of her birth in Savannah as the only child of Edward Francis and Regina Cline O’Connor, Mary Flannery, as she was called then, became a part of the lively and self- sufficient Irish American community. The location of the O’Connor townhouse on Charlton Street in Lafayette Square just across from the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist and within walking distance of O’Connor’s first parochial school afforded the young O’Connor the schooling in her faith that would set the course of her life’s work and, simultaneously, mark her as detached observer, in this world but not of it.” —Georgia Women: Their Lives and Times, Volume II, Gordon, pg. 324-325
Before she was a famous writer, she was an amateur cartoonist.
“The teenage O’Connor seems to have settled in nicely and was considered a bright and talented young woman by her high school teachers. Her imagination given free rein, O’Connor began cartooning in earnest and even sent some of her work to the New Yorker magazine, reporting in the high school newspaper that she was spending her time collecting rejection slips.”—Georgia Women: Their Lives and Times, Volume II, Gordon, pg. 327
Flannery attended University of Iowa originally for journalism, but after getting frustrated she switched to fiction writing.
“Soon after classes began O’Connor, who by now was calling herself simply ‘Flannery,’ realized that journalism was not a good fit for her and approached Paul Engle, of the newly established Writers’ Workshop, for admission to that program. Engle claims to have recognized O’Connor’s genius early on, even though her nasal southern accent and her shyness were initial stumbling blocks to her participation in a program that called for reading one’s own work aloud and participating in class discussion. In 1947 O’Connor completed the requirements for the MFA with her collection Geranium and Other Stories.”—Georgia Women: Their Lives and Times: Volume II, Gordon, pg. 329
Both she and her father passed away from lupus.
“O’Connor died of kidney failure brought on by the lupus that she had battled for over ten years. The news of O’Connor’s death as reported by the AP wire and reprinted in hundreds of newspapers offered a bare-bones summary of her career: ‘Milledgeville, Ga (ap)-Flannery O’Connor, short-story writer and novelist who suffered from a chronic crippling illness, died Monday at the age of 39. In 1959, Miss O’Connor was one of 11 American writers to receive a Ford Foundation grant.'”—Creating Flannery O’Connor, Moran, pg. 65-66
With the publication of her first novel, Wise Blood, she changed people’s minds about what a southern writer was and ushered in a new wave of attention for southern writers.
“O’Connor as a southern author who, like others from the same place, makes particular demands on readers outside of that region. One reason for so many mentions of O’Connor as a southerner-why this fact was often emphasized as another rule of notice-had to do not only with the novel’s setting of Eastrod, Tennessee, but with an assumption about southern art that had been trumpeted decades before O’Connor began her career. In 1917 H. L. Mencken’s famous (or notorious) essay, “The Sahara of the Bozart,” appeared in the New York Evening Mail; the title (with its phonetic spelling of “beaux arts”) reflects Mencken’s view of the land of cotton as a cultural wasteland: ‘Down there a poet is now rare as a philosopher or an oboe- player. The vast region south of the Potomac is as large as Europe. You could lose France, Germany and Italy in it, with the British Isles for good measure. And yet it is as sterile, artistically, intellectually, culturally, as the Sahara Desert. It would be difficult in all history to match so amazing a drying-up of civilization.'” —Creating Flannery O’Connor, Moran, pg. 13
“Miss Flannery O’Connor is one of those writers from the American South whose gifts, intense, erratic, and strange, demand more than a customary effort of understanding from the English reader. . . . Miss O’Connor may become an important writer.” —Neville Spearman’s 1955 review of Wise Blood, as quoted in Creating Flannery O’Connor, Moran, pg. 13