Mary Flannery O’Connor was born in Savannah in 1925. She spent most of her childhood there, the daughter of staunch Roman Catholic parents. Catholics were a minority group at that time, and even as a child in parochial school, Flannery was aware of being regarded as somehow different. Though in her later years many of her artistic contemporaries regarded religious orthodoxy freakish, Flannery never lost her vital connection to her faith and her church.
While still young, the Great Depression and her father’s illness forced the family to leave Savannah. Her father took a position in Atlanta, but after a few months in the city, Flannery and her mother moved to a family residence in Milledgeville, Georgia. Her father remained in Atlanta, joining them on weekends.
An only child, Flannery grew accustomed to living with a lively extended family. She and her mother shared their house with two maiden aunts, a great-aunt, an uncle and a boarder. Various uncles and cousins frequently visited.
Flannery’s father died when she was 15, having suffered a slow decline from lupus,. Despite the painful loss, Flannery finished high school in Milledgeville and attended Georgia State College for Women (now Georgia College & State University) just a block from her home. She graduated with a major in Sociology, though fiction writing had been her real interest since childhood.
On advice from teachers, Flannery entered the Writers Workshop at the State University of Iowa, taking a Master of Fine Arts degree there. She was then invited to continue her work at Yaddo, the artists’ colony of the Trask Foundation at Saratoga Springs, New York. There, she continued to advance her style while meeting literary friends with whom she would form lifelong friendships. It was at Yaddo that she met her future editor, Robert Giroux; the poet Robert Fitzgerald and his wife, with whom she lived for two years in Connecticut countryside and referred to as her “adopted kin;” and the novelist, Caroline Gordon, to whom she continued to send her work for criticism as long as she lived.
Flannery’s literary career was a race against time. The symptoms of lupus appeared just as she was finishing her first novel, Wise Blood. The disease progressed with occasional remissions—restrained by medication that simultaneously damaged her bone structure. Aware of the fragility of her existence, Flannery wrote and revised with tireless intensity. Two collections of stories, A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Everything That Rises Must Converge, and a second novel, The Violent Bear It Away, were all she was able to finish. Other work was published posthumously by friends.
Flannery’s writing did not receive its highest honors until after her death, but her reputation has grown steadily and, today, she is everywhere recognized as one of the most important American writers of the 20th century.
Flannery O’Connor Collection
Ina Dillard Russell Library
Georgia College & State University
Milledgeville, GA 31061