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Cache of Flannery O’Connor’s Papers Expected to Shed Light on Catholic Novelist

Zelda Caldwell - published on 10/22/14 - updated on 06/08/17

Emory University acquires O’Connor’s papers and keepsakes

Over 30 boxes full of journals, letters, drafts, rejected manuscripts, drawings, and personal effects of the late author Flannery O’Connor have been acquired by Emory University in Atlanta and are now available for scholarly research. The gift was made available by the literary estate of the author, a native of Milledgeville, Georgia.

In her short career, O’Connor, who died of lupus in 1964 at the age of 39, wrote two novels, “Wise Blood” and “The Violent Bear it Away,” and 32 short stories, for which she received the National Book Award posthumously in 1972. 

Known for her darkly humorous, haunting stories, most of which feature “freaks” or grotesques, and a moment of grace — usually violent — in which characters come closest to knowing themselves, O’Connor thought of herself, first and foremost, as a Catholic writer.

In her collection of letters, “The Habit of Being,” she insisted,“I write the way I do because and only because I am a Catholic.”  Whether all of her many admirers appreciated this aspect of her writing, or not, she continues to be ranked among the finest American writers.

The archives’ treasures include over 630 letters written to her mother, Regina O’Connor, a handmade paper book of poems, titled “The Priceless Works of M.F. O’Connor,” typed draft pages of the novel “Wise Blood” with hand-written corrections, eyeglasses, drawings, photos, and a rosary.

The collection of letters to her mother explain, perhaps, why it has taken so long — 50 years after O’Connor’s death —for these documents to be made available to the public. According to the New York Times, O’Connor’s mother who died in 1995 at the age of 99 had “deemed some of the letters unsuitable for publication.”

With last year’s publication of her private, spiritual writings, “A Prayer Journal,” O’Connor’s readers were introduced to a side of the author her spare, enigmatic fiction might have obscured.

In her journal, written as a young woman while she was at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa, she revealed a certitude in her vocation and in the source of her gifts. 

“If I ever do get to be a fine writer, it will not be because I am a fine writer but because God has given me credit for a few of the things He kindly wrote for me.”

The donation of these documents promises to further illuminate the life, work and faith of Flannery O’Connor.

Hear a 1959 recording of Flannery O’Connor reading her short story, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”

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