Flannery O’Connor

Fifty years ago today, one of my favorite writers, Flannery O’Connor, passed away. I read a couple of her short stories in high school, but I did not truly appreciate her genius until I read a little volume entitled Flannery O’Connor: Spiritual Writings that includes excerpts from her correspondence. Her letters contain some of the most straightforward thoughts on writing and faith that I have ever read, and I turn back to them regularly.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Human nature vigorously resist grace, because grace changes us and the change is painful.

This notion that grace is healing omits the fact that before it heals it cuts with the sword Christ said he came to bring. – Letter to “A,” October 1, 1960

One of the awful things about writing when you are a Christian is that for you the ultimate reality is the Incarnation, the present reality is the Incarnation, and nobody believes in the Incarnation;  that is, nobody in your audience. My audience are the people who think God is dead. At least these are the people I am conscious of writing for. – Letter to “A,” August 2, 1955

…the operation of the Church is entirely set up for the sinner; which creates much misunderstanding among the smug. – Letter to “A,” August 9, 1955

Fiction is supposed to represent life and the fiction writer has to use as many aspects of life as are necessary to make his total picture convincing. The fiction writer doesn’t state, he shows, renders. It’s the nature of fiction and it can’t be helped. If you’re writing about the vulgar, you have to prove they’re vulgar by showing them at it. – Letter to Eileen Hall, March 10, 1956

Here are some other of my favorite quotes from Ms. O’Connor that are from sources I do not yet know:

Whenever I am asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one.

Conviction without experience makes for harshness.

When a book leaves your hands, it belongs to God. He may use it to save a few souls or to try a few others, but I think that for the writer to worry is to take over God’s business.

And my all time favorite:

The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.

If you have never read an O’Connor short story, I humbly suggest “Revelation” as a great place to start. It is my favorite short story of all.


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