Flannery O’Connor

Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O’Connor (March 25, 1925 – August 3, 1964) was born Mary Flannery O’Connor in Savannah, Georgia. She became best known for her short stories, morally driven narratives populated with flawed characters sometimes described as grotesque.

O’Connor was viewed as a bit different by her fellow townspeople in Milledgeville, Georgia. She stood somewhat apart, an observer. There was nothing she wanted to do other than write. After a brief fellowship at Yaddo, the prestigious residency in Saratoga Springs, she moved to New York City in 1949.  At the age of 24, she was ready to begin her writing career in earnest.


First novel and a diagnosis

While working on her first novel, Wise Blood, O’Connor was diagnosed with lupus, the rare autoimmune disorder from which her father had died. Soon after, she moved back to Milledgeville and lived with her mother. Even while stricken with lupus, she wrote every day, producing a body of work that included two novels and more than thirty short stories.


Southern Gothic and her writing life

Today, her work is still much discussed because of its detail, symbolism and imagery. Her work is categorized as “Southern Gothic,” and relies heavily on regional themes. O’Connor famously said: “Anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.” Though her themes were often serious and dark, her writing was imbued with wit.

O’Connor kept her private life to herself, but was outspoken on the art and craft of writing and the writing life. Some have said that a seething anger rises up from her stories. Wise Blood, The Violent Bear it Away, and her collection of stories, A Good Man is Hard to Find, were all praised by critics.

Although she lived a somewhat sheltered life, O’Connor’s work depicted subtleties of human behavior with razor precision. Her dark humor wasn’t appreciated by all — its religious overtones (she was a devout Catholic) were highly provocative. She was also an avid book reviewer, penning more than one hundred reviews for various publications.

O’Connor was asked why she wrote, and her answer was “Because I’m good at it.” It wasn’t a statement of ego, but one of fact. She was deeply immersed in the craft, writing and rewriting.


A good man is hard to find and other stories by Flannery O'Connor

You may also like: Flannery O’Connor on the Grotesque in Fiction


Later Life

Despite her illness — and the treatment for it, which also weakened her — O’Connor enjoyed traveling and giving talks, and continued to write. In 1964, she had surgery for a stomach disease, which exacerbated the lupus. She died on August 3 of that year, only 39 years old.

In 1971, the posthumous Collected Stories won the National Book Award. One critic noted that she “did not live long, but she lived deeply, and wrote beautifully.


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