I LOVE Flannery O’Connor. When my husband and I recently traveled to Savannah, I was thrilled to tour the childhood home of one of my favorite writers. I loved listening to the docent who is part of the Flannery O’Connor Foundation. She gave a passionate and animated presentation of this prolific southern writer. As usual, I got chills thinking that the formative years of Mary Flannery O’Connor were spent in the very home I was touring. Her childhood fantasies and role play began at 207 E. Charlton Street, Savannah. I could feel her presence. I hung onto every word of the guide, and I was even asked to participate by reading aloud Miss O’s own words she had written in a childhood book. “This one is not very good.” She was referring to one of her childhood books. She made notes to herself or to the next reader of this particular publication. Flannery was quite the critic even as a six-year-old. She knew what was good and what was not.
As I searched my memory, I tried to remember what was my favorite Flannery O’Connor writing. Last year I read, “Conversations with Flannery O’Connor,” though I had not read any of her short stories in years. She only wrote two books, novels, and I have not read either of them. Most of her work is essays and short stories. I remember reading some of these in a Southern Literature class in college. However, as is my pattern with most writers, I became enamored with Flannery and researched everything I could on her. What struck me as a college student about the descriptions of her was that she wrote with such confidence and was a straightforward and fiercely independent Southern woman who conveyed this through her stories. This intrigued me. As a young writer, I didn’t have the courage to write all the thoughts I had. It is said that she disliked unoriginal or writing that was used to impress.
This is why I love Flannery. She didn’t write to please others. She used her writing style to shock her audience because she wasn’t sure they held the same beliefs she did. “When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock-to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.” In other words, her style was to get your attention even if you don’t agree with her. Over the years I have written many human interest stories, written interviews. I have written many short non-fiction humorist essays. My quirky look at life. I usually write for an audience who agrees with me and is touched or humored by my writing. As a college student, I remember thinking of her a headstrong formidable presence.
According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, her friends spoke of her “merciless attacks on affectation and triviality.” She didn’t put up with much. This surfaces in her work. I remember reading “Geranium” and feeling anxious at the tone of the story. The story about a flower. There was shouting and arguments. I felt like a voyeur to a confrontation that I just wanted to leave, but I couldn’t. I wanted to see the outcome. That’s what Flannery O’Connor does. She touches the mercenary part of your soul that wants to see the bizarre patina of her narrative. She doesn’t give you a charming story tied up with a pretty bow and obligatory ending.
Yes, I love Flannery O’Connor. She is everything I am not. She makes me want to grow. Once again, I am picking up her completed works and reading each story. I continue to read about her strong-willed shit-stirring approach to writing. That’s my shocking explanation of how I perceive her. I am no Flannery O’Connor expert, nor can I say I have read everything she has written. I haven’t even read half of it. But, I love Flannery because she inspires me to reach a new level in my writing. She gives me the courage to write. Period.