Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Flannery O'Connor

I am not big into biographies, but I noticed one that was recently published: Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor. Many of you, especially if you were educated in the South, have read some of Ms. O'Connor's stories, the most famous being "A Good Man is Hard to Find." Flannery O'Connor is known for a few things:

1. She wrote mostly short stories.
2. She was a stream of consciousness writer.
3. She was Catholic, and it shows in her stories. For those of you who don't realize, being a Catholic in Savannah can be difficult – and more so, when she lived here. Think large Baptist faith community who don't associate with or trust Catholics. Remember, we are talking 1930s to the early 1960s.
4. She is from Savannah, Georgia. Okay, most people know she was a southern writer, but don't know she is from Savannah.

Anyway, this biography is just the second of Ms. O'Connor. Surprising, you say, since she has been described as one of the most important American writers of the 20th Century. Well, she is a self-described "pigeon-toed child with a receding chin and a you-leave-me-alone-or-I'll-bite-you complex." And that sort of sums up her life. She would joke that the highlight of her life was when she was six, and was filmed with her chickens. A local television station filmed her because she taught them to walk backwards. Quite a feat considering chickens have such small brains. I mean, chickens eat their own poop, cluck and scratch for food all day, and can't even tell when they are dead, running around with their heads cut off.

She died early, of Lupus (an inherited disease – her father died of Lupus when she was 15). And the reason there are not a lot of books written about her life is that it was probably not very interesting. I mean, she even said that it would be hard for someone to write about her biography, since not much happens between the chicken coop and the house. Yeah, chickens were a big part of her short life.

She was sheltered but wrote about subtleties in the human condition. Anyway, she is one of my favorite writers, and I may read this biography. Just because I love her work and want to know more about her. Her words speak to me. I don't know if it is because of the similar background (geography, religious). Or just her words. If I could be one person, I think it would be Betty Hester, someone Ms. O'Connor corresponded with for nearly a decade. Of course, I would not shoot myself as she did, but it would have been so rewarding to be close to someone as talented as Flannery O'Connor.

I have known a few authors in my lifetime, and they always bring me joy, even if it is just for a lunch or a brief conversation.

I will leave you with my three favorite Flannery O'Connor quotations, all which relate to writing:

Everywhere I go, I'm asked if I think the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them. There's many a best seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.

It seems that the fiction writer has a revolting attachment to the poor, for even when he writes about the rich, he is more concerned with what they lack than with what they have.

The writer can choose what he writes about but he cannot choose what he is able to make live.


Deb said...

So true on so many levels. I think the same applies for artists. As for myself, I was always great at art - or (was told), until my teacher gave me a "D". He really wanted to flunk me, but we got along. I think writing, art and music are great being taught, but should be relied on the freedom of one's expression.

And, a "limited life", or a life like Flannery O'Connor can provide more insight than someone who is worldly my opinion.

What great quotes from her!

Xmichra said...

That last quote is one of my favorites as well.

I didn' know any of that about her. More to do with geography I suppose.

In any event, I like to read biography's on people who influenced me... makes a bit more of a connection to the reverence. Hope you enjoy the book :)

Leesa said...

Deb: You lost your tilde. I did not notice that until now.

Xmichra: I love to find connections that makes the admiration or enjoyment more so.

kathi said...

I know this is going to sound corny (that's just who I am, I guess), but I've always taught Charlie (because he's like me in the way that he likes to create)because he writes music, stories and even a couple of screenplays and he draws, that whatever you create has to come from the heart and it'll find it's audience, but if you create merely for (or to find) an audience it will lack heart.

I've read many a book that lacked heart and didn't read any more from that author. But I do have a list of authors that move me every time I read them and I'll read anything and everything they write. Same as with some actors and musicians.

Leesa said...

kathi: I think what you said is profound, actually.

Deb said...

(hahahaaa!!!) OMG, I had to laugh when you noticed that! You are so funny!