October 15, 2014

Flannery O’Connor’s letters and papers soon to be made available to the public


Flannery O'Connor in 1947. Image via Wikimedia

Flannery O’Connor in 1947. Image via Wikimedia

“It is a pity I can’t receive my own letters. If they produce as much wholehearted approval at their destination as they do at their source, they should indeed be able to keep my memory alive and healthy.” – Flannery O’Connor 

The New York Times reports that Emory University is set to receive a collection of letters, personal journals, and literary drafts from the estate of Flannery O’Connor, enough to fill more than 30 boxes, and will soon make them available to the public.

“It’s simply going to open up new territory,” said William A. Sessions, an emeritus professor of English at Georgia State University and a friend of O’Connor’s, who was chosen by the estate to write her authorized biography, which has yet to be published.

The collection at Emory — which includes, perhaps most intriguingly, more than 630 letters from O’Connor to her mother, Regina Cline O’Connor — will complement the long-established Flannery O’Connor Collection at Georgia College in Milledgeville, about 100 miles southeast of Atlanta, which houses manuscripts for O’Connor’s two novels and most of her short stories. O’Connor attended the school when it was known as the Georgia State College for Women and lived with her mother on a farm outside Milledgeville for 13 years, after she learned she had lupus, the autoimmune disease that eventually killed her.

O’Connor is best known for her novel Wise Blood and her short stories, including her most famous, A Good Man is Hard to Find. Direct and often prickly, the letters and papers provide another window into O’Connor’s short life (she died from lupus at age 39). The Times got to take a quick look at some of the material, and it includes “early short stories; charming juvenilia, including a hand-lettered children’s book about a goose; rarely seen photographs, including a self-portrait in a mirror, with an enigmatic hint of a smile; and a journal begun in December 1943 and titled ‘Higher Mathematics,’ which wryly reveals Ms. O’Connor’s early acknowledgment of her formidable gifts.”

The website Everything That Rises includes a fairly amazing quote from O’Connor pulled from a letter to a teacher, describing her reaction to the television adaptation of her short story, “The Life You Save May Be Your Own.”

“Well I have seen the production and I thought it was slop of the third water.  I aver that everybody connected in any way with it, except me, had a stinking pole cat for a mother and father.”

While that particular letter was included in Library of America’s collection, published in 1998, the newly available collection promises much more.

Tour O’Connor’s childhood home courtesy of C-Span, or stop by Open Culture to listen to her read A Good Man is Hard to Find.


Julia Fleischaker is a former director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.