Monday, June 4, 2012

Who was Flannery O’Connor?

As we begin our reading of Wise Blood we look first to the life of its author. 

Mary Flannery O’Connor was born on March 25, 1925 in Savannah Georgia to Edward and Regina O’Connor.  As a young child she already showed signs of the complex, multifaceted, somewhat mischievous, individual that she would become.  Stories abound of her bring tomatoes for the teacher instead of apples, chewing snuff in class and shooting rubber bands from her braces behind the nuns backs.  Family and friends recognized at a young age the genius and talent she possessed but few could guess the celebrity that she would become.

As she grew she quickly proved that she cared little for what others thought of her.  She was willing to pursue her own interests regardless of what others thought.  While most girls here age enjoyed playing piano, dancing or chasing boys she instead focused on drawing cartoons (or using linoleum cutting) and writing.  These interests stayed with her the rest of her life and she pursued them with wholehearted devotion.  She never did find a need for piano, dancing or even for boys spending her entire life single. 

In 1941 her father died of Lupus.  Flannery was forced to watch the man that she adored most in the world suffer a horrible slow painful death at the age of 45.  She spoke rarely of her father again.  According to those who knew her best this silence showed how deep her love had been and how deep her hurt was at his lose.  She spoke rarely of the things that mattered the most to her.

After graduating from Peabody High School in 1942 O’Connor enrolled in an accelerated program at George State College for Women at the young age of 16.  There she continued to grow as both an artist and as a writer.  Many of her students believed that she was more on the level of the faculty than the other students.  She graduated in 1945 with her B.A. in Social Sciences and from there moved to Iowa to attend the University of Iowa.  She first entered into the journalism department but soon entered into the Writer’s Workshop program.  While in this program O’Connor’s genies began to show even more causing most of the class to be intimidated by her. 

After finishing her schooling and a year fellowship writing O’Connor moved to Saratoga Springs, New York to live at Yaddo, a refuge for artists.  From there she moved to New York City for a short time and then to Ridgefield Connecticut to live with Robert and Sally Fitzgerald.  It was her that she completed most of her work on Wise Blood (although the most important work would be done later and we will look at this in a further post).

In 1950 O’Connor had her first flare of Lupus and was diagnosed with the disease.  Surprisingly her mother kept the diagnoses a secret from her for 2 years.  Because of the disease she was forced to return to Georgia to live with her mother in Milledgeville on a farm called Andalusia.  It would be here that she would spend the rest of her life writing and suffering through flares of Lupus.  She was able to travel and speak some between the flare ups and even had an audience with the Pope in 1958.  Her final tally of works includes 2 novels, a collection of short stories, and a few other pieces. 

Flannery O’Connor passed away on August 3, 1964 from lupus following a surgery.  She was 39 years old.  At her death America lost one of its most promising young writers.  

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