Women of Vision Wednesday: Flannery O’Connor
This year, SCAD President and Founder Paula S. Wallace inducted five new women into the Savannah Women of Vision, a program that celebrates key female figures whose ideas, leadership and service have shaped the community of Savannah. This weekly column will attempt to share a little more of the stories behind each of the fifteen women whose gold portraits hang on either side of the Arnold Hall Theater.
On March 25, 1925, Flannery O’Connor was born in Savannah. She attended the city’s parochial schools until 1938, when her family moved to Milledgeville in central Georgia, and she transferred to the Georgia State College for Women (GSCW) Peabody Laboratory School.
Flannery was extremely close with her father and was devastated when he passed away due to systemic lupus. She turned her attention toward an accelerated three-year program at GSCW as a social science major and found refuge in books and art.
She was a talented cartoonist and her work was featured in almost every issue of the college newspaper, the yearbook and “The Corinthian,” the college’s literary magazine of which she was also editor. She also wrote essays, poetry and fiction for the publication. Most people were impressed by her talent but also stunned by her notable shyness.
She earned a journalism scholarship from the State University of Iowa but, after her first term in 1945, she found herself drawn to the creative writing master’s program and was accepted.
Throughout her studies, she was able to meet highly-esteemed writers and critics who helped to shape her work. She submitted a collection of short stories called “The Geranium” as her thesis and a portion of her novel, “Wise Blood” for publishing, for which she won the Rinehart-Iowa Fiction Award for a first novel.
After her graduation, she moved to Saratoga Springs, New York, to live at the Yaddo artist’s retreat and to finish “Wise Blood.” A couple years later, she settled into a garage apartment in Ridgefield, Connecticut owned by Sally and Robert Fitzgerald. The Fitzgeralds were devout Catholics and provided Flannery with unending inspiration for her creativity and spirituality.
Flannery was forced to return to Milledgeville permanently in 1950 after an attack of the incurable autoimmune lupus. She lived on a family farm called Andalusia until the end of her life. She dedicated most of her efforts to writing, including traveling around the country to read and talk about her work. She also wrote countless letters to fellow writers, aspiring writers, newspapers and people seeking spiritual advice. On top of all this, she cared for her growing flock of peacocks.
Her Gothic-style depictions of the South and her juxtaposition of the macabre and the mundane earned her many fans and her work began to win a multitude of awards, including many O. Henry Awards and grants from the National Institute of Arts and Letters.
In 1964, her lupus was reactivated by an early surgery for a fibroid tumor and her health began to deteriorate over the next couple months, eventually making her comatose. She died on August 3, 1964.
“The Complete Stories,” a collection published posthumously, received the National Book Award in 1972. Despite the fact the award was traditionally given to a living author, the judges felt the book too impressive to not win the honor.
By Elena Burnett