The first session in Nottingham Contemporary’s season of Southern Writers organised by Graham Caveney was excellent and not only was it a pleasure listening to Richard H. King speak about Southern Writing but there was the added pleasure of meeting the crime novelist John Harvey and his daughter too (John was a American Studies student on M.A. back in the day as they say).
I did not know Flannery O’Connor’s work although I had purchased her Complete Short Stories many years ago..it had languished on my very full and very unread shelves.
The session was a revelation and I have since been working my way through her ‘Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose’ collection which is wonderful. I always knew that one of my favourite writers Raymond Carver had referenced her as a major influence but it only now I seeing why. Her observations on ‘Creative Writing’ courses and their effectiveness made me laugh out loud (see her lecture ‘The Nature and Aim of Fiction’) ….she speaks of what she knows having been an early Iowa Writers Workshop student where she met John Crowe Ransom and Robert Penn Warren.
Here her major works in contemporary covers which shows how she was an illustrator’s dream commission… which leads on to yet another revelation..she was herself a budding cartoonist whilst at College!
The Signature below combines her initials into the form of a bird on her lino-cuts (her chosen medium).
Here some examples and what interesting is there is some stylistic similarity with another Catholic writer/artist Eric Gill possibly somebody she familiar with through Catholic journals. There also a sense of W Heath Robinson too….who possibly she saw as a child..
My favourite photo is this one of her on the veranda at her family farm in Andalusia with one of her beloved chickens ( a interesting connection with fellow Southern writer Alice Walker)
There an interesting blog published by the Museum that the farm has now become:
When she was six, living in a house still standing (now preserved as the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home), she experienced her first brush with celebrity status. The Pathé News people filmed “Little Mary O’Connor” with her trained chicken and showed the film around the country. She said: “When I was six I had a chicken that walked backward and was in the Pathé News. I was in it too with the chicken. I was just there to assist the chicken but it was the high point in my life. Everything since has been an anticlimax.”
What I have responded most strongly to in her writing so far is the confluence of regional identity..humour and this particularly visuality which I shown above.
John Huston’s film of Wise Blood seems embedded with Flannery’s visuality which may be why it seems so sharply drawn from the ‘directions’ in the text. We ‘see’ her world very sharply through her pen in an almost Dickensian sense…I have not read any criticism linking the two but I sure she would have been familiar with Dickens especially ‘American Notes’.