Friday, October 21, 2016

Flannery O’Connor Is Capable of Anything: Gilgamesh and the Woods of Andalusia

Having lived in Milledgeville for thirteen years, and having regularly visited Andalusia, I have moments now when I think of Flannery O’Connor as a realistic writer. Part of the pleasure of meeting with groups of tourists visiting the farm is in watching them realize how well the stories they know match the landscape they have come to Andalusia to explore. I’m not just talking about how O’Connor used what we call the Main House and the nearby farm buildings, though O’Connor certainly does seem to have recreated masterfully, in stories such as “Good Country People,” “The Displaced Person,” “Greenleaf,” and “The Enduring Chill,” the details of Andalusia’s structures. I’m also talking about the trees around O’Connor’s farm home, the forests she knew, perhaps through her wanderings around the property during extended visits in her early years - before she moved permanently to Andalusia. 

Experts in what is now called ecocriticism are starting to realize how sophisticated O’Connor was on practical issues of land use and preservation, and I appreciate such scholarship, but I’m also increasingly impressed with O’Connor’s descriptive sentences about the natural world, sentences that - silly me - I used to consider mere matters of narrative pacing. I now realize that O’Connor writes accurately about trees, and especially about how the trees at Andalusia look with the sun’s power filtering through them.

On the other hand, whenever O’Connor has a character take a walk into the woods, into a forest even slightly removed from a farm operation, we are also clearly entering the numinous. Think of how much Sally Virginia Cope is learning as she ventures out into the woods to spy on the three trespassing boys in “A Circle in the Fire,” boys she comes to appreciate as if the delinquents in the woods were sent by God. Think of how much Harry/Bevel Ashfield is taking in as he walks through woods, before he gets to his river baptism, in “The River.” And then there’s “A View of the Woods,” which is all about how the woods are mysterious and magical, valuable in ways old Mark Fortune cannot quite imagine with his economic calculations.

A few semesters ago, one of my students mentioned that she enjoyed reading Gilgamesh for another of her Georgia College classes. She suggested that Gilgamesh was similar to O’Connor’s stories. Sure, that’s nice, thought I, as I moved on to other concerns for the day’s class. Eventually I played catch-up, getting my hands on Stephen Mitchell’s 2004 adaptation/translation, for Free Press, entitled Gilgamesh: A New English Translation. It’s a wonderful read. Just goes to show how much a teacher can learn from a student.

The parallels between Gilgamesh and “A View of the Woods” are rather awe-inspiring:
King Gilgamesh of Uruk (in today’s Iraq) has a double, who is closer to nature than is Gilgamesh. The king learns of his double’s existence when a man complains that the double, named Enkidu, has been, apparently in defense of nature, filling in the “pits” the man has been digging (76). Gilgamesh and Enkidu become very close despite their initial rivalry. Then Gilgamesh decides that they must go together to the Cedar Forest and fight its monstrous guard, named Humbaba. Enkidu is horrified by the prospect but goes along. As Gilgamesh is fighting and killing Humbaba of the forest, Humbaba puts a curse on both Gilgamesh and Enkidu, and, as Humbaba promises, Enkidu dies, plunging Gilgamesh into extended mourning. Gilgamesh then attempts, at length, to defeat death, but the secret of immortality is stolen from him by a “snake” (197), and Gilgamesh is left to contemplate the not-really-satisfying accomplishments of the civilization he rules.

I assume the similarities to O’Connor’s “A View of the Woods” are apparent. I’ve appreciated for some time that O’Connor rewrote Dante and Sophocles and classical myths and stories from the Bible. Now let’s add to the list Gilgamesh, written down approximately a thousand years before The Iliad. Now when I re-read “A View of the Woods,” even as I appreciate that O’Connor was writing realistically about the details of the development of Lake Sinclair, I also see Mark Fortune killing the divine spirit of the woods, partly by selling them to a merchant, the reptilian Tilman, and suffering a curse that kills both his granddaughter, Mary Fortune Pitts (who in a sense is the old man’s double) and then Mark Fortune himself. Like Gilgamesh, Fortune conducts a battle against the woods that ruins his relationship with his double and earns him a severe punishment.

I have only begun to think through the ways in which O’Connor’s story is playing off the ancient Middle Eastern epic. Is Mary Fortune Pitts a version of Enkidu, or a version of Humbaba, or a version of both? Of this much I’m sure: O’Connor is great at realistic description, but she might also, and can, do anything.

Bruce Gentry is Professor of English at Georgia College, Editor of the Flannery O'Connor Review, and a member of Andalusia's Board of Directors. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Going "Illiterary" on the Farm

Previously in this space, in extolling the virtues of bluegrass music even for those who may be averse to it, I called it the “music of the front porch.” I hope that all of us have had, at some point, the sublime experience of music making with friends and family; my own grandfather and great uncle were the performers for many nights spent on back porches in my childhood. Beyond the acts who take the stage each year at Andalusia’s Bluegrass Festival, my favorite part of the evening is invariably the musicians who bring their own instruments to our porches to “pick and grin” with whoever may be nearby. Last year, an ad hoc band of two guitars and a fiddle cropped up on the Hill House porch and provided welcoming, sweet “entrance music” for so many first-time visitors. (That hour is also a fond memory of the staff at Andalusia due to the warmth and talent of our friend, the late Russ Edwards, the performer pictured on the right below, whose presence at this year’s festival we will sorely miss.)

One of the refreshing things about the festival is its opportunity to bring in so many visitors who aren’t hard-pressed to brush up on “O’Connoriana” before coming. On a “normal” day at the farm, the conversations we have with our visitors turn, at some point, to their experiences with the fiction. We get all the answers: yes, no, and somewhere in between. All of which are correct, of course; we’ll make the visit of the uninitiated a pilgrimage on its own and turn our space into a unique look at rural, agricultural life in the middle of the 20th Century. (And maybe do a little “mission work” on behalf of O’Connor’s prose along the way.) Indeed, many visitors on these normal days remark on how the kitchen in the main house will remind them of a grandparent’s house. For other visitors, the farm its own unique quiet spot away from the traffic of Highway 441 and the “guided tours” of other spots along their itinerary.

There’s a wonderful line and sentiment from the last paragraph of Alice Walker’s short story “Everyday Use.” An African-American mother has just seen one daughter, Dee, go back to college via a rather tense exit, and she’s enjoying the quiet with the remaining daughter, Maggie: “[The] two of us sat there just enjoying, until it was time to go in the house and go to bed.” Sitting and enjoying as an end unto itself is an almost unheard of sentiment in 2016, and maybe even in our own line of work we can occasionally forget to make room for times of reflection. I remark of education frequently in this space, and our attempts to create lifelong readers and lovers of learning. Sitting and enjoying puts us in the right mind to broaden our horizons, from picking up a reading copy of the Collected Stories in Uncle Louis’s room in the main house or, for the evening of November 5, coming to a new appreciation of the unique harmonies and melodies of a style of music that modern radios seem not to have room for anymore.

Daniel Wilkinson will serve as host of the Bluegrass Festival on November 5 as part of his duties as Bon Vivant.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Fall on the Farm

The sights of Fall are all around us in Georgia, at long last. Our collegians are in the swing of things, or at least they should be—midterm is drawing close at Georgia College. (On that score, I am pleased to say that several of my own students are electing to write about Flannery for their first literary assignments.) Up the road in Athens, their Saturdays are growing crowded and, as usual, hypertensive; another game like last week’s vs. Tennessee and all of Clarke County may suffer a coronary. The mountains of north Georgia are seeing ever so slight hints of gold on their foliage. Around my hometown of Woodbury, we’ve got arts and crafts fairs filling up our weekends. Needless to say, after a long, hot, dry summer, October has been a long time coming.

Out here at the farm, my preferred office, the porch, has a cool breeze all day, when we can find the time to sit for a second. Pretty weather brings tour groups of all sorts, from busloads of high schoolers to Sunday school classes. (To that end, if you want your group to visit us at the farm, give us a call at 478-454-4029.) I often say that I get the fun gigs here at Andalusia, and tour groups are invariably a hoot, even if the attendees haven’t read much of the fiction; there is, after all, a lot to talk about out here. That recent group of 10th graders looked at me with jaws agape when I told them just what had happened in the hayloft in “Good Country People” and just what the tractor ended up doing in “The Displaced Person.” I like to think that look is what Flannery had in mind when she wrote of having to shock folks in order to get her vision across in “The Fiction Writer and His Country.”

The big event of the Fall will be our 12th Annual Bluegrass Festival. This will be the third Festival I’ve had the privilege to participate in as Master of Ceremonies, and I’d love to see the backyard full of folks once again. Bluegrass music is one of those art forms best enjoyed in person. Recordings are fine as far as they go, but bluegrass is the music of home, of the front porch, and so it’s a perfect fit for Andalusia. It’s stuff best enjoyed among friends and neighbors, and we’ll make some new ones on November 5 as we enjoy the sounds Good Country People (Flannery fans, of course), The Skilletlickers, and the Packway Handle Band.

Thus, the activity of the farm picks up when the temperatures go down, and I can’t say I’m opposed to meeting our guests in a less “perspirous” environment. Manley’s feathers may be put away for the season, but the property itself is just beginning to look its best. I’ll save you a chair out here in the “office”!

--Daniel Wilkinson is the Bon Vivant and a Visitor Services Assistant at Andalusia, caretaker of the 1825 Brown-Stetson-Sanford House for the Old Capital Museum, and an Instructor of English at Georgia College.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Andalusia's Little Free Library

I have been to Andalusia many times in the periods of my life when I lived in Milledgeville. My first visit was in the Spring semester of 2008, as part of a field trip for my upper level literature course with Dr. Bruce Gentry that focused exclusively on Flannery's writing. I remember well, sitting with my classmates on the pollen-laden screened porch, discussing her letters and essays. It was thrilling to imagine her presence, clacking away on the typewriter that still sat upon her bedroom desk.

My latest visit was no less thrilling, in a way. I attended the last Thursdalusia of the season on Thursday September 15th, which was also the night of dedication for the Little Free Library on the farm property. The evening was clear, yet muggy and sunny, summer still holding on. My nearly four year old daughter attended with me, her first visit to Flannery's farm. She spent much of her time marveling over the peacocks, especially the "boy bird" with his jewel tone feathers. She sweet-talked her Daddy at the gift shop and went home with a peacock of her own. She charmed the fellow attendees by hamming it up for the camera and lounging on the mats to hear stories from the Thursdalusia participants. We even looked through the books in the the Little Free Library together and selected a title to take home.

I came to know about the Little Free Library (henceforth referred to as "LFL") at Andalusia through my work as an apprentice with the ENGAGE program at Georgia College. My project involved placing a LFL structure at a public place in Milledgeville or Baldwin County. Through my work with ENGAGE, I learned there are already several existing LFL, but many lack charters that would designate them as official. There is also a need to keep the libraries stocked with books and maintained. My proposal aimed to not only place a structure, but to assign local student and campus organizations as sponsors of these structures. Going forward with my project, I plan to create a network and increase communication between the various LFL stakeholders within Milledgeville and Baldwin County so that students can use these existing structures to engage in community-based learning experiences.

Artisan-built, the LFL at the farm resembles the barn found at Andalusia. It is a site to behold, certainly one of the more intricate LFL designs I've found. It was already stocked with an array of literature including two hardback copies of Harry Potter! Part of my Engage project was to find a home for the barn LFL's twin sister. I approached the City of Milledgeville to see about placing the structure at Central City Park and at this writing, we are waiting until the revitalization effort of this park takes place, hopefully in the coming year, before placing the LFL structure.

Once the sun began to set, my husband decided to take our little one home and I saw a rare opportunity to kick back on a "school night" so I helped myself to a second Wise Blood IPA and settled on the bench for some storytelling. I was treated to lovely character sketches by Elizabeth Wylie and inventive fiction from others, as well as serenaded with guitar. I enjoyed conversation with other attendees, many of whom I know from campus and the local farmer's market. The evening sprawled as late summer evenings do, lazy and humid, the gloaming all pink and purple and lovely. And as I drove home, bumping along slowly on the dirt driveway, a family of deer flashed across the road, gliding over the rusty fence and into the wide green field.

Jamie Addy is an Instruction and Research Librarian at Georgia College's Russell Library. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Where Two or Three Are Gathered in Our Name

Walking through the south as a black person is often a troubling and perplexing task. Black culture is central to the lifeways of the south and yet ownership of the land itself has been denied to us. This denial means that the choice to “claim” the land is not always automatic. Often, the instinct is to avoid certain terrains because of the potential for trauma that they hold. Think, for instance, of all the Southern-born black writers like Richard Wright, Sonia Sanchez, and Percival Everett who move away and build a body of work largely about other locales. On the other hand, some, like Tayari Jones or Randall Kenan, continue to imagine the Southern landscape even when their bodies no longer reside in the south. Then, of course, there is Tina Ansa whose physical life and work remains firmly anchored to the land from which she came. So when you are invited to celebrate a piece of the Southern landscape, like Andalusia Farm, it can trigger any number of emotional or political responses. The farm with its acre-wide pond, strutting peacocks, tree-canopied walks, and whirring cicadas is emblematic of Southern ugly as much as Southern beauty. While the land itself is idyllic, the built environment reminds one of a way of life that few are nostalgic for, some are critical of, and many feel defensive about. This contradiction raises the question “Do I deny myself the pleasure of these familiar (in all senses of the word) southern landscapes, which gave rise to so much black genius?”

For at least one day in June of 2016, I, for one, chose to avail myself of the pleasure of the landscape and of my neighbors who had gathered on the Nail House deck behind the main house to share creative works in progress, paeans to childhood memories, and humorous recitations of nonsense in the monthly gathering that is Thursdalusia. Some days, I make different choices. This is one of the realities of living with the legacy of the “peculiar institution” of Southern slavery and the aftermath of systematic disenfranchisement—some days you feel up to making the effort to be in community with all of your neighbors and on other days the litany of assaults, past and present, on black humanity, dignity, and beauty mean that you simply cannot. On that day I was able and I’m pleased that I went. I’m even more pleased that I had the foresight to bring some friends with me—literally and literarily. Having my friend Bryan, a young black poet, there with me meant that I was not alone in my reading of the built environment or my sense of the significance of my choices of which poets and poems to share. We had a humorous conversation on the way over about the process of selecting what to read in “mixed company”; how our moods effect how protective or not we will be of others’ sensibilities. My choices that day, however, were probably more about my own sensibilities and the kinship I feel with certain black women poets. That day I read Black Arts Movement era selections from Nikki Giovanni and Carolyn Rodgers because I am drawn to their ways of asserting black femininity as powerful rather than fragile, vocal rather than silent, creative instead of repressive. And their shading of Standard English and Euro-American poetic convention! Choosing to share their language and their ideas was a clear assertion of my identity as a black woman. While all identity is relational, not all identities are subject to the kinds of assault that Black identity is, and that is why the gathering of “two or three” is crucial to manifest black claims to Southern land.

Beauty Bragg is Professor of English at Georgia College and a long-time resident of Milledgeville, Georgia.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Aw shucks!

We recently received very welcome news from the Community Foundation of Central Georgia. The Knight Fund for Milledgeville has awarded Andalusia a $10,000 grant to support the 12th Annual Bluegrass Festival. The Knight Foundation’s giving program “believes the arts help build community by binding people to place and to each other. Done with excellence, the arts inspire and connect people.” Well, thank you! We strive here to undertake everything we do with standards of excellence that continue to lift up this small non-profit with big ideas. In turn, our goal is that the community’s experiences with the farm are frequent and memory-making. As the festival moves into its 13th, 14th and 15th year (and beyond), we hope it is an event that is anticipated and embedded in the community calendar. This and other strategies contribute to making Andalusia a true community asset. That said, we live at the intersection of the local and the global. The majority of our visitors come from outside the five country region in which we are located. Since opening to the public in 2003, we have received over 46,000 visitors from 49 US states and 16 countries. This year’s attendance exceeded last year’s, and that was more than the year before. So…we are doing what we are doing to lay a foundation of engagement for the long haul, to encourage people to use the property, to participate in our programs and partner with us. It is a fact that a place that is loved is supported. The Knight Foundation understands that people and places go together. Their support for our festival helps us concentrate on the things that matter: creating a quality experience, inviting people to enjoy it and to understand this place is here for them. It is also true that preservation is meaningless without people: to engage with the property; with Flannery’s genius and the themes she explored; with history and the lifeways we are in danger of losing; and with nature…all 500+ acres of it wedged between Walmart and the car dealership on GA Hwy 441. Won’t you join the Knight Foundation and show your support as well? Our Annual Appeal ends September 30th. Please do what you can to ensure Andalusia Farm is here for future generations and donate here now. No gift is too small or too large!

Elizabeth Wylie is the Executive Director of Andalusia Farm. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

On Adaptations of Flannery

One of the enduring refrains from the critical apparatus in the modern US is the supposed dearth of original ideas coming from Hollywood. The seemingly endless array of superhero films, remakes, reboots, sequels, and so on is an indicator, some think, of a creative malaise brought on by studio executives’ focus on budgets and profits. This charge, in some sense, is true; of the five highest grossing films of the year thus far, there is one original concept: The Secret Life of Pets, at no. 5. The foregoing is not to say, however, that all sequels and adaptations are lazy or bad. A good sequel or adaptation takes the original material and adds to it in ways that make the new and the old “sing.” The old saw that “the book is always better” usually rings true, but not always; I think immediately of Big Fish and how Tim Burton’s visual style magnifies the strained father/son relationship of Daniel Wallace’s novel.

Flannery fans are fortunate that there’s a healthy supply of worthwhile adaptations of her fiction. Some are somewhat hard to find; I remember a conference here in Milledgeville a few years ago where attendees were fortunate to see “The Comforts of Home,” starring a young Stockard Channing as Sarah Ham. The Georgia College library has a copy of a fairly engaging “Good Country People,” which features a pitch-perfect Manley Pointer explaining his “Chrustian service.” Not all of these rarities are worthwhile, however; O’Connor herself wrote some friends with fairly caustic reviews of a television adaptation of “The Life You Save May Be Your Own” starring Gene Kelly. (In fairness, the rights to that version did procure the Hotpoint refrigerator that sits in the main house’s kitchen to this day.)

Fortunately, other adaptations have found wider audiences. John Huston’s Wise Blood was selected by Criterion for preservation and distribution in 2009, and deservedly so. Huston showcases late 1970s Macon, GA, at its seediest and sweatiest. Indeed, downtown Macon is worth a stop on the way to Andalusia for Flannery fans if nothing else to see what has become of the movie’s landmarks in the interim. Further, my image of Hazel Motes has been compromised by Brad Dourif’s portrayal to such a degree that Dourif is all I can see when I revisit the novel. The Criterion DVD’s special features also introduced audiences to Flannery’s own reading of “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.”

Filmed on location at Andalusia in 1977, the adaptation of “The Displaced Person” very faithfully puts my favorite of Flannery’s stories to film. Perhaps more than any other adaptation, this one brings that story and the farm out of what Flannery calls “the darkness of the familiar.” Glenn Jordan’s direction mirrors our view of the farm, I think; he employs long, sweeping shots of the house and landscape that show off our pond and the rolling pastures. The main house and the Hill House look lived-in, but comfortable. Indeed, every time I go into the Hill House, images of Shirley Stoler and Lane Smith as the Shortleys come to mind. The farm, of course, is a working one: the equipment shed and barns are all lively with day-to-day business, and I cannot help but think of poor Mr. Guizac when I see our tractor parked in the equipment shed.

It’s my hope that more adaptations of O’Connor will come along; she has some relevant things to say about 2016. The travails of Ruby Turpin in “Revelation,” for example, might offer the American public an impetus to reassess its own social ladders and hierarchies, and the Fortunes from “A View of the Woods” are a valuable lesson for those who’d equate economic development with treeless asphalt. Closer to home, new audiences for Flannery would mean a new slate of visitors and friends for Andalusia. As we work to preserve and revitalize the place that inspired her stories. The creative contribution to the memory of O’Connor would be a fitting companion to the physical and fiscal one.
Daniel Wilkinson is a Visitor Services Assistant at Andalusia Farm, an Instructor of English at Georgia College, and an avid reader of Roger Ebert. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Teaching Flannery in Milledgeville

I find it a fortunate turn that I teach Freshman Composition classes. I'm unconstrained from the limitations of “American” or “British” or “World” in assigning readings, and these courses will have a little of everything: from John Donne to Alice Walker and back again. My students’ first readings in college are O’Connor stories: “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” “Greenleaf,” and I will toss in a couple of more comic tales if time and scheduling permits. “Good Man” is frequently reprinted; the others less so and I have to scrounge a bit to get enough copies for the kids to read. I am only partially selfish in adding in a couple from the top of my list of favorites, “Good Country People” and “Parker’s Back”; I’d like for the students’ Flannery experience to have some of her requisite dark comedy, as well.

Students at our various local public schools and three post-secondary schools are beyond fortunate to have the author’s home so near. The new school year just begun has already brought several English classes to the farm, and more are to come as we get into the cooler months and as reading schedules coalesce. The teachers may have gone on their private literary pilgrimages to the farm before, but their enthusiasm for sharing their favorite writer’s home is infectious indeed. It is O’Connor-esque, indeed, that for all the busybodies and preening moralists among Flannery’s fictional educators, real ones flock to her house and bring their students with them.

I have been fortunate enough to lead tours of middle schoolers and college students both, and their responses to the house and grounds are more alike than one might guess. They are jarred by Flannery’s crutches leaning on the wardrobe and enamored with the tailfeathers of Manley II. They learn of course of the writer and her fiction, but also some ornithology, botany, and maybe even some home economics along the way too. Farms are the original interdisciplinary classroom.

Our most recent field trip guests were the students of Georgia College’s Sandy Dimon, themselves Freshmen and taking their first classes in college. She’s passed along to me some of their reactions from a prompt she uses in her classes, and I am indebted to her for doing so:
I couldn't imagine a better lesson in "setting" than a trip to Andalusia to read "Good Country People" aloud with my students. Here are a few comments from that day:
· "I was able to listen to the story while imagining the scenes taking place in the buildings around me."
· "I've never read a story while sitting in the setting of it. It was a great experience."
· "[It is easy] to understand the underlying sense of loneliness which exists in [Good Country People]."
· "I felt the presence of O'Connor as she wrote the story."
· "This experience is something I will take with me and remember as something bigger than just a class away from campus. But [sic] a way to get inside a story and make it truly come alive."
Students appreciated the house also, particularly O'Connor's crutches and the typewriter. Many had never seen such an instrument and had trouble imagining writing even a small paper without an online thesaurus and spell-check! Several referenced the fact that Andalusia is a free museum and a wonderful place to "get away"; one student felt moved to give his last $5 as a donation.

I would encourage area teachers to arrange a field trip to "the farm." It is ours; O'Connor is ours; we should celebrate.
And celebrate we shall on September 15th. As part of our last Thursdalusia of the season, we will dedicate our Little Free Library, a project undertaken in conjunction with Georgia College’s Russell Library. That project is a way to keep the spirit of literary education alive and well at the farm for students of all ages. We’re educators after our fashion at the farm. (Even my colleagues there from the art world!) While our ideas about Flannery, her fiction, and the running of the farm are valuable on their own, our real hope is to spur our visitors into a perpetual and self-sustaining love of learning. For those who take us up on that offer, every day is a field trip and every destination a museum.

Daniel Wilkinson is a Visitor Services Assistant/Bon Vivant at Andalusia Farm and an Instructor of English at Georgia College.  

Sandy Dimon is an adjunct instructor of English at Georgia College, an AP Reader, and a judge for Georgia One-Act and literary competitions. She also serves on the Board of Directors of the MilledgeVille Players.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Flannery and the Family

The longing to discuss what I read and study with loved ones has informed my reading ever since I switched my focus from psychology to literature two decades ago. As a graduate student, I gravitated towards Victorian literature in part because my wife loved and would discuss it with me, and just a few years later added a minor in Irish literature following a pleasant jaunt to Dublin while our first daughter was in the womb. And so it went: we studied Gaelic Irish together when my degree called for a third language, read literary biographies aloud while I studied for my PhD exams, and reread the Bront√ęs side by side while I wrote one of my dissertation chapters.

Since then, our family of four has journeyed together through western narrative, beginning with personal childhood favorites like C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, moving swiftly through Madeline L’Engle’s Wrinkle of Time series, traipsing through the magical world of Harry Potter, and more recently delving into such popular dystopias as those sketched in The Hunger Games trilogy and Ender’s Game series.

I have been a bit slower to introduce the girls to the types of fiction I regularly teach, wanting their initial experiences of the western canon to be positive. A couple summers ago, when they were 11 and 13, I warily introduced Emma and breathed a sigh of relief when Austen’s humor clicked with them, just as I was delighted a year later to see how much they enjoyed the melodrama and social commentary of Dickens’ Hard Times. Both forays into the nineteenth century generated enough interest each time for one daughter or the other to spend the succeeding year researching and reading the author in question for school. Success!

So you might imagine the anxiety with which I introduced them to O’Connor’s fiction during our family’s pilgrimage to Milledgeville this past June. I had excitedly rediscovered O’Connor after taking a job in California--until then not having read a word since 1994--and for 4-5 years now have been teaching both her short and long fiction in my various disability studies courses, as well as in the Bible as Literature and in Literature and the Arts course I teach annually. My own appreciation of O’Connor grew particularly swiftly this past year; I spent much of my sabbatical reading and writing about O’Connor following fruitful ventures into her letters and manuscripts at Emory U. and George College. She plays a key role in my current book project, and, thankfully, has fully won over the affections of my wife. I did not know, however, how O’Connor’s particular brand of redemptive grotesquery would go over with my teenage girls. Despite their early familiarity with Brothers Grimm stories and recent ventures into violent action movies like Fury Road, I was unsure how they’d react.

Crossing my fingers, and lifted by a prayer or three, I set things in motion a couple days before Milledgeville by reading aloud “A Temple of the Holy Ghost,” starring an unnamed protagonist just slightly younger than my girls. Both O’Connor’s fictional progeny and my own daughters think romance a bit suspicious and sexuality quite icky, share a deep-seated love for the Divine, and are drawn to the mystery of the Eucharist. It seemed a good place to start.

Fortunately, my daughters’ amusement at the young protagonist’s quirkiness--her aspirations to become a hard-to-kill martyr and her arrogant dismissal of older teenagers as “idiots,” among others--did not devolve into condescending critique. They could sympathize enough with the girl’s subject position to laugh without judgment, and were intrigued along with her at the enigma of intersexuality that figures into the story’s recollected carnival scene.

Emboldened, two days later I again pulled out the worn collection of O’Connor’s fiction I purchased in college, and this time chose the more infamous “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” Our family was, after all, driving from Atlanta to Georgia’s former capitol, allotting just enough time to read the story before pulling into Milledgeville, and there was something particularly poignant about driving out of the same metropolis the doomed family leaves behind in that story, though it took our own car slightly longer than 20 minutes to escape the outskirts of the city . . .

As we drove southeast through a countryside that retains much of the color and texture of the landscape O’Connor knew well in the 1950s, our imaginations proceeded along a parallel path that descended swiftly from the fluffy, comic clouds of family squabbles and poorly behaved children into the horrors of violent loss. The girls were silent as I finished the last few, blood-soaked pages, and then the conversation began, covering the contours of psychosis and self-deception, the sometimes far-from-tender route taken by mercy, and the potentially similar spiritual paths traversed by the Misfit and the old woman he shoots in the chest.

The conversation continued in the hallowed recesses of Andalusia with the help of two kind and knowledgeable docents--escaping into the depths of Wise Blood for a time--and then wound down, appropriately, as key images previously touched only by fancy came into view: a barn, a tractor, a peacock.

And a shared family experience that, unlike the buried recollections of “General” Sash, will be long treasured and only grudgingly forgotten.

Paul Marchbanks is an associate professor of English at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, and is currently writing a book on the redemptive ends of much grotesque art.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Flannery's Fangirl

When we first pulled up the dirt road onto Andalusia, it felt familiar. The car bounced on through the winding driveway, passed the caged peacocks, and the worn rocking chairs on the porch. It bounced passed the small pond behind the trees, and all the way up to the empty visitor’s parking lot. We were the first ones to visit that March morning.

We were: my two parents, Debbie and Alejandro, and I, Sarah Lawrence College graduate student, Isabel, studying creative writing. We had been road tripping the past two days from Miami, trying to get back to New Jersey. We had decided when we first planned the trip we would have to stay in Georgia, so why not take a trip to Milledgeville to visit Andalusia? Touring American writers’ homes and graves has slowly turned into a bucket list between me and my father. O’Connor’s home at the top of both our collective lists.

I got out of the car, and walked on up to the back of the house. My parents were already ahead of me, near the front porch. Everything was green and blue. The bright morning light, mixed with the freshness of the earth. The irises were lined up in a row around the foundation of the house. It smelled of early spring. The grass underneath my sandals was wet and squished with each step as I walked up to the front of the house. The small pond was down the hill to my right, and the peacocks in their cages were on the left side of the property. I felt giddy, ready to devour every ounce of knowledge about O’Connor I hadn’t already known.

My fascination with O’Connor started when I was thirteen. I knew I wanted to be a writer, so my dad got me, The Workshop: Seven Decades of the Iowa Writers Workshop. The first story I read in the book was O’Connor’s “The Comforts of Home.” It was breathtaking. I knew, right then, I had to read more. As I continued to read O’Connor throughout high school (both in and out of the classroom), she easily became my favorite writer. From “A Good Man is Hard to Find” to Wise Blood, her writing always captured me on a multitude of levels. The combination of her clear, pungent prose, mixed with wit and harsh criticism of the world she came from, is not only something I admire, but something I strive to create within my own stories. Luckily enough, when I went to William Paterson University for my undergraduate degree, I had the immense privilege of working one-on-one with O’Connor scholar Brad Gooch. His book, Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor, is a book where I have dog-eared almost every other page, and was delighted to find several copies waiting to greet me in the Andalusia gift shop.

Walking through the farm and property of Andalusia felt strange and electric. Passing her bedroom, the old restored kitchen, all the way out to the back— beyond the peacocks and the stables— all of it so green and lush. I was so hellbent on exploring, that it consumed my whole morning. Sometimes I’d walk side by side with my parents and we’d examine the property together, but then I’d get restless and move on ahead of them to another room. We saw it all. I typed on the model of her old typewriter, watched the video about her life in the small art gallery, my mother even bought several iris bulbs from the garden. When I went up to the peacocks and watched the lazy birds lounge on their perches, or walked along the banks of the small pond, I felt closer to her. Like I was allowed a little sliver into her world, what it might have been like when she lived at Andalusia. I remember sitting on a small wooden bench near the pond, my parents climbing up the prairie hill to the front of the house, and feeling the wind rush past my face, the baby hairs on my arms stood up in a sudden chill. My dad called me from the top of the hill, it was time to go.

By early afternoon, we headed out of Andalusia and out into Milledgeville proper to find O’Connor’s grave. I was the first to find it and the last to leave it. I knew I would see it again. We headed back on the highway, up the coast.
Isabel Anreus is a graduate student in the MFA program at Sarah Lawrence College.

Friday, August 12, 2016

A Word of Welcome

Milledgeville, as it does each August, welcomed its newest residents en masse this week. The class of 2020 and their parents blanketed the downtown area in the course of move-in day at Georgia College, and I know our merchants are happy to see them. Summer is fairly peaceful around here, but there is such a thing as too quiet. Ours is a very O’Connor sense of normal: several hundred teenage strangers make the place feel like home. While it was nice to have an array of parking spaces to choose from in downtown Milledgeville, it’s time to get back to the usual order of things. Both students and parents are eager to start a new chapter, and as a teacher I share in their enthusiasm. 

At Andalusia, this time of year offers us several opportunities to educate as well, and in ways that don’t necessarily have anything to do with the garden variety “visit to the museum.” Creative writers, naturally, have an affinity for the inspiration that Andalusia offers, and I hope that the stories and poems they read at Thursdalusia have been crafted with a little bit of the farm therein. Student organizations frequently join us to put on special events (the 12th Annual Bluegrass Festival on November 5!) and to maintain our grounds and trails. Students from the hard sciences are some of our most frequent visitors as they sample our pond water and survey the wildlife on the property. And, while it’s not necessarily an effort to educate on our part, especially enjoyable are our teacher friends who use the porch as a second office to plan and grade.

It may be a bit of tall order for someone who’s out to test our pond water to become a dyed-in-the-wool Flannery fan. It happens, of course, and that’s a pleasant bonus, if for nothing else to give the English teacher greeting them something to talk about. But beyond giving our volunteers someone interesting to read, I hope their service to Andalusia gives them a sense of accomplishment and pride in preserving a place that is so vital to Milledgeville. That dedication to service and to causes greater than oneself gets at the ultimate purpose of education, and those of us at the farm, educators in our own right after a fashion, are privileged to provide an outlet. Thus, we thank our volunteers already in the fold, and invite the newest “Milledgevillians” to join our cause.

Daniel Wilkinson is, when not greeting guests at Andalusia and the Old Capital Museum, an Instructor of English at Georgia College. 

Friday, August 5, 2016

Finding Flannery

Flannery would have welcomed us, I think, Michael and me, twice making a pilgrimage to the high holy place of Andalusia when a special event allowed us proximity to Milledgeville.  After celebrating Christmas 2014 with family in Atlanta, we detoured to Andalusia while driving home to Florida.  In May of 2016, we were again in Atlanta for the high school graduation of my granddaughter at the Galloway School.  Such an elaborate event you have never witnessed, especially for a Depression child such as myself who attended a yellow brick schoolhouse set back from an athletic field on Atlantic Ave. housing us natives in our journey from first grade to 12th, growing up during WWII in Fernandina, Amelia Island’s fishing village-cum-mill town, where Main St. began at the river and ended at the ocean, where you went home and told Mama if you saw a stranger downtown, and it was entirely apropos that, “If you don’t know what you’re doing, everyone else does.”

            So, what drew us to Andalusia? A Florida poet and her professor son, teaching English/Humanities at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona, about whose students he said, “I teach them what they don’t want to know.” Well, if by some abysmal error in academic judgment, the didn’t get Flannery O’Connor, they were not left out of the loop because Flannery has been a figure in Michael’s classes.  Michael is a fan, an ardent fan, and so am I, the reader who marveled at Flannery’s characters, mastery of plot, and dialogue: the amazing doors her imagination led her through.

            Our very first visit, it was post-Christmas, it was bitter cold, and Andalusia was respite from the tinsel and tape of the holiday.  It was peaceful and quiet driving from the highway where the white farmhouse rose at the end of a secluded road like something remembered from lost yesteryear, or else, a “Manderlay” of another fiction.  And, speaking of lost, we got Very—as we made our way back to Fernandina on an unfamiliar route we had not traveled before.  But, my son Michael said to me with satisfaction as we left Andalusia, “We did this together!” When I questioned Michael as to why he had wanted to come to Andalusia, he replied, “Be a part of the house and the people who lived there.”  Yes. To absorb its energy, become a more knowledgeable person. Such make up the deep and reverent memories that are the only things we take out with us at final exit.

            Returning to Andalusia in May 2016, was homecoming, and when we drove away this time, we did not get lost.  There was a leisurely drive on the lovely Georgia backroads.  Parking our car at the back yard of the house, there was a low wooden performance space that had been set up for special events, and under shade trees lawn chairs were placed in a wide circle for the comfort and welcome of visitors. Come sit a spell, I heard in my head like the Southerner I am, and so we stayed a spell enjoying the intimacy and privacy of the setting.

            Next stop by unspoken consent was the screened-in pen that housed the peafowl, one female, and a male of the exotic plumage. Michael, camera in hand, focused in on His Majesty, the male.  Some minutes passed while the two birds slowly paraded before us as if accustomed to celebrity, then, several minutes more and the male fanned out in all his glory and stood (so it seemed) striking a pose in front of us.  Michael said, “Flannery had said, ‘Do not try to make it happen.’” But, it happened! I told Michael, “I think he likes you.”

            After negotiating the front steps leading up to the porch and into the foyer of the house, we stopped at the front desk to make some purchases.  A fine edition of Flannery’s collected stories, some buttons imprinted with Flannery’s highly recognizable face for Michael to wear on his t-shirt, for me to wear at my table at the next Amelia Island Book Festival; and especially for me, handmade by a local artist, a double strand of carnelian’s mysterious and magical stones no doubt prized by queens and priestesses.  One of the ways we touch back to history, not to mention the primary reason we were there. 

            History is heavily embedded within Andalusia’s walls.  We passed through room to carefully preserved room, and in the silence there is a palatable O’Connor presence that asks for reverence like a church or cathedral.  In the house kitchen with its appliances the like of which we shall not see again, it brought up an image of my stepmother feeding wet garments through the wringer of that same kind of antique laundry machine kept in the garage of the beach house I grew up in. From the kitchen, there is a small windowed porch in which the only furnishings consist of a couch placed against the windows, and a desk on which sits an antediluvian typewriter.  Michael set in solitude for a long time on the couch in that room in communion with the remaindered spirit he must have felt there. I don’t think it accidental that Flannery was born on March 25th, and Michael was born March 24th.  Separate years, but surely kindred spirits of the Ram. As the uninvited fellow who impulsively sat down to share my blanket at a concert in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park said to me, “The beautiful people find each other.”

            Knowing that Flannery was as fascinated as this writer with all types of birds had a strong resonance for me. I sat down at the desk, punching the keys energetically just as in Miss Ross’s typing class at Fernandina High School so many years ago. I wrote several paragraphs to leave behind me about my favorite bird, the breathtakingly beautiful male cardinal who for me is an omen of imminent good fortune—often the case when the cardinal and poet cross karmic paths.

            So, thank you, Andalusia, for the floodgate of memories you have unlocked.  Thank you for your tangible past that interprets the present and leads us into the future, enriched. We shall come again for this.  And again, and again. 

Nola Perez is a poet and memoirist from Fernandina Beach, FL.  She is the author of In the Season of Tropical Depression, The Movement of Bones, and other works.

Friday, July 29, 2016

A Requiem for Flannery

This coming Wednesday, August 3, is an anniversary we mark each year: Flannery O’Connor’s death at 12:4o a.m. at the Baldwin County Hospital. Perhaps on this day more than any other Flannery steps out of the “darkness of the familiar” as she put it. The lady behind those stories, essays, and letters that we’ve read so many times becomes far more of a real person in our confronting her death. 

Even to visitors who have never read much of her work, Flannery’s presence here is quite evident, beyond the crutches against the wardrobe and the sink against the wall. The literary elements are still here, too: the hayloft and tractor, among others.  The house is put through many of the same motions as it was when Flannery lived here, from the Supper Club dinners with our donors to conversations with visitors on our front porch.  I think Flannery would like that this place remains as much of a home as it is.

There are stories of Flannery’s having to hide papers from her nurses because they didn’t want her to write in the hospital. We can all certainly admire the work ethic there.  Those stories went into the second collection: Everything That Rises Must Converge, and some of my favorites were edited in the hospital room: “Parker’s Back,” Judgment Day,” and others.  Flannery’s work ethic is no small part of our willingness to preserve Andalusia for the generations to come.  This is a place of great inspiration, but inspiration is only as good as the efforts taken to put it into something tangible, sharable, and lasting.  Thus, we thank Flannery for her example, and work to preserve that which she left behind. Requiescat in pace.

If you would like to make a contribution toward the preservation of this place, please visit our website, or give us a call at 478-454-4029. 

Daniel Wilkinson is a Visitor Services Assistant and Blog Editor at Andalusia

Friday, July 22, 2016

A "Glob": On the Farm in Piedmont, NC

Why do I come to Andalusia? Because I visit with the spirit of Flannery, and the farm wraps its arms around me.  I feel good from both encounters.  I come to Andalusia because the pace makes me feel good about myself and the world. 

When I was a child, I grew up on farms. One was with my parents; it was not really a working farm.  My father earned our livelihood in other occupations.  Our farm just had beef cattle to keep the land in use with minimum labor.

The farm I loved was the one of my paternal grandparents. (I know now my grandfather was an agribusiness man, a totally unknown idea to me at the time.)  My grandfather, known as “Pa-Pa” (Pah-paw) had many operations. The list would include: a traveling saw mill, a cotton gin, a Robinson Chemical retail fertilizer business, a threshing machine business, and in the winter a place where people came to slaughter and prepare hogs for utilization during the winter.  He also served out community as Church Treasurer, Chairman of the local school board, and adviser and helper to many.

I understand now that the cotton gin’s space with the roll-top desk was basically my grandfather’s office. However, much of my time was spent in his large truck with a full bed on the back. This was not a pick-up truck, but a large truck.  He never went out in it without his constant working companion, Raoul, a young black man.  Sometimes I was allowed to sit on the back of the truck bed with my feet hanging over; Raoul was ALWAYS there to protect me. Most of the time the three of us rode in the engine area of the truck. I have no idea how many hours I spent in this endeavor, from about three years to the time I began school at six years of age, but I felt like the “Queen of the Hill” as I rode along. 

And so, Andalusia puts its arms around me when I am here.  And I feel as safe as eight decades ago in Piedmont, North Carolina. There are many Grandmother stories, but they must wait for another day.  

Therry Deal, formerly of the Georgia College College of Education, is a volunteer at Andalusia.