Thursday, March 25, 2010

Freaks and Folks and Flannery

unknown photographer

Here in Oakland, California it's still March 25 so I can wish Flannery O'Connor a blessed birthday.

Today's short biography from A Writer's Almanac ... another good chicken story too ...
It's the birthday of Flannery O'Connor, born 85 years ago today in Savannah, Georgia (1925), who wrote two novels and 32 short stories and who said: "I come from a family where the only emotion respectable to show is irritation. In some this tendency produces hives, in others literature, in me both." When she was six, she and a chicken that she taught to walk backward appeared on the news. She later said: "I was just there to assist the chicken but it was the high point in my life. Everything since has been anticlimax."

After college, she went to the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and then spent time at the Yaddo Writers' Colony. At the age of 26, she was diagnosed with lupus, the disease that had killed her father when she was a teenager. At the time, doctors told her she would live for another five years, but she survived for nearly 14 years. She moved back to Georgia so that her mom could take care of her, to a 500-acre family farm in Milledgeville where she raised chickens, ducks, hens, geese, and peacocks, her favorite. She arose every morning when the chickens first cackled, went to 7:00 a.m. Mass in town at Sacred Heart, returned home and wrote for a couple of hours each day, until she felt too weak or tired.

As she herself put it, she wrote about "freaks and folks." She said, "Whenever I'm asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one."

In her sickly 14 years on the farm with her mother, O'Connor wrote two dozen short stories and two novels filled with her freakish, obsessive characters, crazy preachers, murderers, outcasts. Her most famous stories include "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," about a silly, annoying old woman whose entire family gets murdered by a man called The Misfit, and "Good Country People," about a pretentious young woman whose wooden leg is stolen by a Bible salesman.

Many of Flannery O'Connor's letters are collected in a volume calledThe Habit of Being (1979), edited by her friend Sally Fitzgerald. And despite O'Connor's premonition that "there won't be any biographies of me, because lives spent between the house and the chicken yard do not make exciting copy," a new book about her life came out just last year, written by Brad Gooch and entitled Flannery (2009).

Flannery O'Connor said, "The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that does not require his attention."

Yes. Life's joys. The cheapest of thrills. Watching.

I love this quote: "Whenever I'm asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one."

There's something in me that relates to Southern writers ... I am from the South too ... No? Whaddya mean? Just take a look at the map of Canada. Now place your finger on Winnipeg, Manitoba. Why, I would call that the Deep South ... of Canada.

[go here to see my last chicken story]

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