Some weeks prior to her sixteenth birthday, Flannery O’Connor lost her 45-year-old father, Edward Francis (“Ed”) O’Connor, Jr., to lupus, the autoimmune disease that would also take her life at age 39. Her initial university education resulted in a Social Science degree, obtained in 1945 from the Georgia State College for Women in her mother’s hometown of Milledgeville, sometime capital of the State of Georgia. The year before her father’s death, the family had moved to Andalusia Farm, Milledgeville, a property purchased by Dr. Bernard Cline, her mother’s brother, in 1931 (and now a museum).
In 1946, Flannery O’Connor entered the prestigious Iowa Writer’s Workshop, a unit of (what is now) the University of Iowa. While studying there for a master’s degree (MFA) in creative writing , her instructors included such important authors as Robert Penn Warren and John Crowe-Ransom. She graduated in 1947, and during the summer of the next year she worked on a novel (Wise Blood) and a number of short stories at Yaddo, an artists’ community in Saratoga Springs, a resort town in upstate New York.
After being diagnosed with lupus in 1951, Flannery O’Connor moved back to Andalusia Farm, where she remained, writing — under her mother’s care — for the remainder of her short life.
“[Flannery O’Connor’s] work is shocking, hard, violent, yet gravely lyrical, an elegy for the unseen”
— Richard Gilman (1979)
The first of O’Connor’s two novels, Wise Blood, was published in 1952, with John Houston’s film adaptation following in 1979. The tale’s principal male protagonist, Hazel (“Haze”) Motes, returns from military service and determines to advance a humanistic project: the Church Without Christ. Matters religious and moral also inform The Violent Bear It Away (1960), O’Connor’s second novel, whose title is a phrase from St. Matthew’s Gospel.
While her novels are esteemed, O’Connor’s literary fame resides fundamentally with her short stories, collected as, first, A Good Man Is Hard to Find (1955) and, second, the posthumously published Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965). Works from the two collections were again published in 1972 as The Complete Stories, which received that year’s National Book Award, a plaudit usually reserved for a living author.
In 1979, the Sally Fitzgerald-edited collection of Flannery O’Connor’s letters, The Habit of Being, appeared. Deeming the book “[r]emarkable and inspiring,” Kirkus opined, “These hundreds of letters give O'Connor's tough, funny, careful personality to us more distinctly and movingly than any biography probably would.” In 2013, prayers that O’Connor wrote while at the Iowa Writers Workshop were published as A Prayer Journal.
return to top of page