Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Discovering Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O’Conner was born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1925 and died at the age of thirty-nine after suffering from lupus for fourteen years. In between, she wrote two novels, thirty-one short stories, and numerous essays and reviews. Her work is widely held up as an example of what Catholic fiction should be.

Never having read any of her fiction, I’ve nevertheless been intrigued by her, if only because I’ve heard her praised widely and often. Who was this remarkable woman and what does she have to say to a Catholic fiction writer today? Her recently published prayer journal (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013) can help answer both of those questions. 

She kept this prayer journal from January 1946 – September 1947 when she was in her early twenties and attending the Iowa City writing workshops. At the same time, she began work on her first novel, Wise Blood. In the pages of this journal, we meet a very human young woman who struggles with the reality of life, but who is deeply in love with God and wants her writing to serve Him. 

She prays, “Please let Christian principles permeate my writing and please let there be enough of my writing (published) for Christian principles to permeate,” and “Dear God, I am so discouraged about my work . . . Please help me dear God to be a good writer and to get something else accepted.”

At the same time, she realizes that any good her writing may offer the world comes not from her efforts, but from the grace of God. “Don’t ever let me think, dear God, that I was anything but the instrument for Your story – just like the typewriter was mine.” O’Connor also states, “If I ever do get to be a fine writer, it will not be because I am a fine writer but because God has given me credit for a few of the things He kindly wrote for me. Right at present this does not seem to be His policy . . . But I’ll continue to try – that is the point.”

A Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor offers an intimate look at this great literary figure, as well as inspiration for Catholic writers striving to create today. One interesting feature of the book is that it not only provides a typed version of the text, but also a facsimile of the original journal, which was in a composition book. Reading this journal allows one to get a glimpse into O’Connor’s soul at this moment of her life. It also made me look forward to reading her fiction.