Friday, January 13, 2017

Porch Life

In recent weeks, entries on this blog may have given our readers the erroneous impression that we were experiencing what the rest of the country calls "Winter." If so, Winter consisted of a cold snap that lasted right around 72 hours. Last Sunday was a rainy and cold one on the farm, but it gave way almost immediately to sunshine and balmy afternoons fit for the porch, and if there's a a positive to losing winter, it's increased porch time. I am a firm believer in that one's quality of life and the amount of time one can spend sitting on the porch varies directly. 

Milledgeville, like all Southern cities of a certain vintage, makes good use of its porches. The oldest homes still standing here in the historic district went as far as to be equipped with second-story balconies, and the one belonging to the Brown-Stetson-Sanford House has long been one of my favorite spots for a cool, quiet read. Atkinson and Terrell Hall on the campus of Georgia College have expansive porches, complete with rocking chairs and coffee tables. Now that the statute of limitations has passed on the offense, I can now admit that I used to sneak onto the Atkinson Hall porch and watch our outdoor graduation ceremonies from the shade, surely to the envy of all those poor souls in black robes and hats in the May sunshine. 

The folks at NPR's All Things Considered did a whole series of vignettes about the role of the porch in American life and literature in 2006. The author that immediately leaps to mind, of course, is Harper Lee. To Kill a Mockingbird is a good candidate for the quintessential "porch novel," but among a few of Flannery's stories the porch figures prominently. I think immediately of when the principles meet in "The Life You Save May Be Your Own"; Tom T. Shiftlet does his best confidence game on the porch. 

The modern Andalusia's porch is invariably a highlight for our visitors.  Flannery, of course, relished her time greeting guests and tending to her birds on the steps of the Main House's porch.  We're glad to keep that tradition alive, save for the birds, who are far better off in their aviary.  Whiling away a Sunday afternoon with some of our guests on the rocking chairs is easily my favorite duty when we're open to the public, but special events are no stranger to the porch, either. A rain-soaked Thursdalusia took refuge to the porch and became my favorite of the season. 

I know I will relish these warm afternoons while they're here. The summer usually sends me back inside to the relative coolness of the attic fan. Thus, consider this a formal invitation to join us on the porch out at the farm, especially now, while the weather's nice! 
Daniel Wilkinson is Andalusia's Bon Vivant and Blog Editor

Friday, January 6, 2017

Learn by Living

With our elementary and secondary teacher friends reopening their classrooms after the break and Milledgeville's collegians drifting back into town (and likely bringing some wintry weather with them, too), we are pleased to revisit this essay from 2014 from Rhonda Armstrong. Cheers! 
--Daniel Wilkinson, Blog Editor & Bon Vivant

“First-grade schoolchildren, who learn by living”[1]
My two daughters, ages three and seven, refer to Andalusia simply as “the farm.” They visited for the first time this summer, while I was staying in Milledgeville, and the peacocks were, of course, the big draw. They filled multiple pages of the then-new easel with their drawings, enjoyed a picnic under the trees, and braved the dark to venture into the barn. They entered the house under duress, to visit the restroom, although they were suitably intrigued by the art in the back room and the magnets in the gift shop.
Flannery O’Connor’s writing desk, with her crutches propped alongside? The seven-year-old gave it a cursory glance before wandering out to the porch in the middle of my informative speech. She doesn’t know anything about Flannery O’Connor, and how would she, really? During those occasions when she has peeked over my shoulder while I’m reading O’Connor, I have quietly closed the book before she can read someone being shot, or choked, or shoved through a  banister, or abandoned in a café. So out to the pleasant porch she goes.
In a 1963 letter to Janet McKane, the New York grade school teacher with whom she corresponded, O’Connor described the local schoolchildren’s visits to Andalusia: “The children go all over the yard and see the ponies and the peacocks and the swan and the geese and the ducks and then they come by my window and I stick my head out and the teacher says, ‘And this is Miss Flannery. Miss Flannery is an author.’ So they go home having seen a peacock and donkey and a duck and a goose and an author….” (HB 545).
I always had the impression that O’Connor disliked children, so much so that she wouldn’t hang around with them even when she was one. The stories of her childhood are often funny: how she ordered her playmates into the bathtub of the Savannah house, where she forced them to listen to her read aloud, thereby ensuring they would never return for a second visit. That image of a tiny O’Connor presiding over a bathroom lecture fits, I think, with our image of her as an adult: well documented sense of humor, but no apparent patience with silliness, and no willingness to waste time with company that couldn’t hold their own in an intelligent conversation.
When I teach O’Connor’s short stories, my students often latch on to the portrayals of Wesley and June Starr in “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” and they comment on how awful those children are. But in contrast to June Starr, who is sassy and obnoxious even as she is led off into the woods to be shot, O’Connor writes a character like Mary Fortune in “A View of the Woods.” Mary Fortune’s world looks an awful lot like Andalusia, and although she is her grandfather’s one favored heir, she rejects his love when he sells off a parcel of land, obliterating her view of the woods across the front lawn from the house. She proves to be irritating and sullen in her grandfather’s presence, but as a reader, I am with her all the way.
It is characters like Mary Fortune who make me believe that O’Connor had some respect for those “exceptional” (and O’Connor informs McKane that “around here [exceptional] means the defective ones”) first graders bumbling about on a farm ogling peacocks, ponies, and writers alike. Maybe she appreciated their refusal—or unwillingness—to have more awe for the author than they have for the goose.
I’m tickled to see that Andalusia’s wish list includes a donkey and a goat, and that Dr. Bruce Gentry is reporting on middle school students visiting the farm. They might not (yet) understand the importance of that front bedroom, but the lilies and the barn have quite a bit to offer, too. 

[1] From O’Connor’s essay “The Kind of the Birds,” reprinted in Mystery and Manners, 9.

 Rhonda Armstrong is an Associate Professor of English at Georgia Regents University in Augusta.

Friday, December 30, 2016

A Happy New Year on the Farm

On behalf of my colleagues at Andalusia, I'd like to wish all of our readers a Happy New Year.  We hope the holidays have found our patrons and friends well-rested and revitalized in anticipation of the coming of 2017.  We've all been using this holiday week while the farm has been closed to the public for a little rest, too, though the Bon Vivant's rest may be a little different.  I used a sojourn to some friends in south Georgia to call on the good folks at the Childhood Home on Charlton St. in lovely downtown Savannah.  Their tour is a useful reminder of Flannery's early life and formative years that helped to produce the author that we celebrate on the farm.

2017 at the farm is shaping up to be one of further growth and excitement. The newest development on the farm is a little shift in my colleagues' space: some office space has been realized upstairs in order to give our shop a little room to breathe; you good folks who have purchased things from our online store have required us to devote a little more space to packaging and readying items to ship. For this good problem, we can only say thank you and to keep it up!

In February comes some of my favorite events of the year: the February Four.  This year, we will focus on The Violent Bear It Away, Flannery's second novel. As with Wise Blood last year, we will present each Sunday afternoon a variety of perspectives on the novel, from criticism to the illumination of some frequently overlooked minutiae. (This year, I'm especially looking forward to the discussion on moonshine, both the making and the novel's usage thereof!)

Our book club remains well-attended and enlightening. On the last Thursday of each month, a guided discussion of an O'Connor work takes place either in our gallery rooms or on the porch if the weather cooperates. Dr Bruce Gentry of Georgia College generally leads these discussions, but keep an eye out during the summer months, when the Bon Vivant will attempt in whatever way he can to pinch hit for Dr Gentry!

Of course, reminders for these events and others are on our Facebook page and newsletter (the subscribe button at the bottom of our website will ensure you find future newsletters in your inbox, hot off the presses).  Thus, to all our readers, patrons, neighbors, and friends: Happy New Year, and we'll see you in 2017. Cheers!

Daniel Wilkinson is Andalusia's Bon Vivant, and Instructor of English at Georgia College, and the caretaker of the Brown-Stetson-Sanford House in downtown Milledgeville. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas in the Bird Sanctuary

As Advent fades into Christmas, I meditate on how the transition to Andalusia—brought on by circumstances nobody willed or could control—would have felt. This post will ponder Flannery O’Connor’s Advent and Christmastide letters from those years. These both sadden and inspire me.

Sally Fitzgerald’s editorial note that separates 1949 from 1950 letters places O’Connor at home “for Christmas with her mother and for an operation to correct a floating kidney” (Habit of Being 19). Over the next three years, Advent and Christmastide continue to be fraught with physical challenges and overflowing with the self-examination that led to an acceptance of living at Andalusia and ultimately to something like self-abnegation.These are the letters Fitzgerald places in Part I: Up North and Getting Home. They are the letters that reach across all the intervening years by speaking to how we face unsought changes that we initially perceive as adverse ones.

Regina Cline O’Connor and Flannery did exactly that. At least, that is my reading of the records, as an only daughter who was blessed with health: The daughter had experienced flight from Milledgeville, the Bird Sanctuary, but periodically returned to the nest, battered in some way that was seldom immediately understood. Gradually, over these years, the permanence of that nest became clear.

Advent is intended to be a season of self-examination that culminates in hope, anticipation, and joy. Yet Christmas in the early 50s for both Miss Regina and her daughter seems annually to have been informed not only by things of the Spirit but also by urgent, physical conditions. The freedoms Flannery experienced in Connecticut become increasingly constrained and distant during this period, with the denouement beginning perhaps in late summer 1952 when the Fitzgeralds ship her Bible home and she acts on her passion for peacocks (43). Home now clearly means Andalusia, the place where your body and your Missal are.

In the initial interstices of uncertainty, O’Connor turns to her best friend from college, Betty Boyd Love, announcing in a letter from “Baldwin Memorial Horspital as usuel” on 23 December 1950 that she will be grounded in the “bird sanctuary for a few months.” At this point, she believes herself to be in “the horspital” for “AWTHRITUS” (22). Her usual good humor prevails, yet she concludes with “Write me a letter of sympathy (23).

Fast forward a year to Christmas 1951 when Flannery describes preparations on the dairy farm for the anticipated arrival of “a refugee family” before turning to her personal status. She expresses hope that she will yet return to Connecticut: “If the Lord is with me this next year I aim to visit you” (30). Both the material for her short stories and the hope for health coexist this Advent and Christmastide. On 2 May 1952, she writes Robert Lowell a fascinating sequence of statements: “I’ve been in Georgia . . . but I am going to Conn. . . . , I’m living with my mother in the country” (35). On 23 May, she again writes Betty Boyd Love.

Reading retrospectively, I know that Love will become more distant as her friend’s prominence as a writer increases. I admire Flannery for announcing and confronting her own demons when she writes earlier of the shock of marriage and now of the presence of a “stalking” child (36). I am in awe of her ability to deflect cultural assumptions that marriage represented success and literary fiction writing had no vocational equivalence to child bearing. I envy her ability to live in the bird sanctuary without reverting to childhood herself.

The Lord is willing for Flannery to make the trip to Connecticut, yet the circumstances of her time there in mid-summer 1952sound stressful. According to Sally Fitzgerald, that visit included a difficult relationship with two other guests, one from New York’s Fresh Air Fund and the other a refugee; a virus; and a conversation during which O’Connor “learned the true nature of her illness” (37).

By Christmastide, in a letter to the Fitzgeralds dated 30 December 1952, Flannery O’Connor emerges in a way that seems to me both slightly sardonic and hopeful, turning her mother’s encounter with an electric mixer and her own shingles to rhetorical advantage (50). In the days ahead, I will be meditating on that mixer and those shingles.


-- Elaine Whitaker chairs the Department of English and Rhetoric at Georgia College. Her photographs and blog are influenced by Ignatius of Loyola and Virginia Woolf. The window is the one behind which Flannery O’Connor may have read; the landscape is her view as it appears in Advent 2016.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Reading for Milledgeville

Previously in this space, I pointed out a few Andalusia-specific stories for some of our first-time visitors. These farm-centric works put Andalusia in a new light each time I revisit them. This time around, here are a few works that illuminate the city-side of Milledgeville. The town is frequently but a setting in O’Connor’s fiction, but a few works bring it out of “the darkness of the familiar.”

1. “The Partridge Festival”
For decades and decades, Milledgeville was a punchline to most of the state due to the sprawling campus of Central State Hospital, the world’s largest mental institution in its day, on the south side of town. “I’m going to Milledgeville” usually did not mean that one was heading off to college. Andalusia is located several miles away from the hospital campus and didn’t figure too prominently in the daily running of the farm, but it loomed very large indeed for the area’s economic prospects in its heyday. The protagonists of “The Partridge Festival” depart a farmhouse for a trip out to speak with a notorious gunman who took his revenge after being slighted by some of the townspeople at their annual fall fair.

2. “A Late Encounter with the Enemy”
Graduation day remains a big event, and now Georgia College holds a pair of them in an academic year. For many years, my own included, the college held its ceremonies on the green space known locally as “Front Campus” when the weather permitted (or, more memorably, even when it didn’t). The scenes at Sally Poker’s graduation (John Wesley’s mistake notwithstanding) are something that could easily have played out in any recent afternoon in early May; the organized chaos of getting hundreds and hundreds of people into a sea of chairs in the middle of Milledgeville is one not easily forgotten or missed.

3. “A Stroke of Good Fortune”
Though not quite the “alone-in-a-crowded-room” feeling one gets from big-city life in “Judgment Day,” “Stroke” has its own brand of claustrophobia as it survey’s Ruby Hill’s apartment complex. A story in which almost everyone knows everyone else’s story serves as a fairly nice metaphor for life in a town that, while large enough for many amenities, frequently does not let one hide. So too, I imagine our collegians have had several colorful metaphors for stair-centric dormitories.

4. “A View of the Woods”
Andalusia’s neighbors surprise our first-time visitors. A car dealership and a shopping center anchored by a certain ubiquitous big-box retailer are the “triumphs of Mr. Fortune,” as named by one of our volunteers. Piece by piece, Mr Fortune has sold off portions of his property to various business interests to the chagrin of his granddaughter’s husband. Andalusia, of course, has no intention of letting Mr Fortune triumph in the real world; indeed, I rather like our spot in town. As the business of Lake Sinclair moves south and the business of Milledgeville moves north to meet it, Andalusia can be a big, quiet, green solace in the midst of all the hustle around it.

With that sentiment, I hope Andalusia can be a little spot of peace and quiet for you in the midst of a holiday that can frequently be anything but. We’ll be open right up until the holiday, so drift in, stay a while, and maybe take a gift or two out of our shop (and those of our locally-owned neighbors). Cheers!


Daniel Wilkinson is an Instructor of English at Georgia College and the Bon Vivant at Andalusia. He wouldn't refuse the title of Man-About-Town if anyone would like to level it at him.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Wintertime on the Farm

The late, great wit of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Lewis Grizzard, said of his time as a “prisoner of war” at the Chicago Tribune, “Chicago has two seasons: Winter and the Fourth of July.” For 2016, it seems like Milledgeville has had two seasons, as well: summer and Christmas. We’ve finally had our first cold snap of the season; houses across the area, our Main House included, are all popping and creaking as our furnaces warm and expand the frames. I can’t say that I’m sad to finally be cold; wearing shorts at Thanksgiving felt a bit unnatural. The cold snap, in short, makes the business of mid-December feel right.

Milledgeville will be a little quieter after today; our collegians will decamp for their homes, and their instructors will settle in (or in my case, barricade myself in) and grade their exams and papers. I’ll miss their presence in a couple of weeks; the students make things “normal” around here, in spite of their large numbers and tendencies toward loudness. After that, even their instructors (yours truly included) will depart for home, and then the town will be well and truly quiet.

All the stillness aside, the local tourism scene doesn’t see much of a drop-off once the collegians depart. Those who come into town to see their folks usually want to step out and see the sights, and the local museums and attractions are happy to provide. Some will have special programming, too; I remember quite fondly a few nights of caroling with the Milledgeville Singers out at Lockerly Arboretum.

Andalusia will remain open right up to Christmas, and we’re pleased to announce our new online shop. If you’re too far away to pay us a visit, we’ll ship our wares to anywhere in the country. When the holiday business gets to be a little too harrowing, come out to the farm and sit a spell. It might be a bit too cold for the porch, but Uncle Louis’s room in the back of the house is plenty cozy!

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

Friday, December 2, 2016

A Widow's Dower

Dr. Bernard Cline purchased the first parcel of Andalusia land in 1931, beginning the Cline/O’Connor estate Mary Flannery O’Connor will hear was once called Andalusia, and the land’s name will become that again; however the land has known many names and owners. It’s been divided, sold, parceled, and put back together again, and again. It was decided on August 18, 1908 that the old Stovall place would change hands. The old Stovall place, which is Andalusia, was no longer just in the hands of the family of Nathan Hawkins. The Johnson family filed a petition at the beginning of 1907. It seems that possession of Andalusia has been argued over for well over a century.
Equitable petition. Before Judge Lewis. Baldwin superior court. January 16, 1907.
A.S. Johnson and Mrs. Elizabeth Johnson, as testamentary trustees of the estate of Thomas Johnson, deceased, brought an equitable petition against S.W. Hawkins, whereby they sought to restrain the defendant, who was alleged to be insolvent, from trespassing upon certain described lands, alleged to be the property of such estate and to have been taken possession of by the defendant, and from interfering with the right of the plaintiffs to occupy the same; and also recover the land. Subsequently, by consent of parties, Mrs. Lizzie P. Myrick and J.C. Hawkins, sister and brother of the original defendant, were, with their consent, made parties defendant to the cause, and plaintiffs amended the petition by praying that title to the premises in dispute be decreed to be in them. The tract of land in controversy consisted of 556 acres, which, upon the death of Nathan Hawkins, the father of the defendants, had been set apart as dower to his widow. (“Hawkins et al. v. Johnson et al.,” 347).
Although their parents were dead, A.S., Lizzie, and J.C. Hawkins still wanted their family land although Thomas Johnson had acquired it through a debt consolidation in 1874 in downtown Milledgeville six years before Bernard Cline was born to Peter and Kate Cline in December 18, 1880.
In 1931, Dr. Bernard Cline acquired Lot No. 1, of Division No. 1, but in the coming years, Cline pieces as much of the old Stovall place back together, which will ultimately come to be owned by the widow Regina Cline O’Connor. In Mary Flannery O’Connor’s fiction, a widow sometimes owns a farm. 1931 is the same year that Mary Flannery O’Connor begins first grade at St. Vincent’s Grammar School in Savannah—also the same year Mary Flannery teaches a chicken with feathers that grow backward to, appropriately, walk backward.
1947 Returns to Iowa City. Applies for several college teaching positions. Story ‘The Barber’ is accepted by anthology of student writing, New Signatures. Uncle Bernard Cline dies suddenly in late January, leaving Andalusia farm, comprising 500 acres of fields and 1,000 acres of woods, to her mother and uncle Louis Cline. (CW 1242)
When Uncle Louis Ignatius Cline passes away on January 13, 1973, Uncle Louis bequeaths Andalusia to his sister Regina Cline O’Connor.

Photo Credit: Eberhart Studio: Milledgeville, Georgia

Works Cited
“Hawkins et al. v. Johnson et al.” Reports of Cases Decided in the Supreme Court of the State of Georgia at the March and October Terms, 1908. Vol. 131. Atlanta: The State Library, 1909.

O’Connor, Flannery. Flannery O’Connor: Collected Works. Ed. Sally Fitzgerald. New York: Library of America, 1988.

James Owens is a nonfiction writer and weekly contributor to Ina Dillard Russell Library’s Special Collections’ blog Dispatches from Penitentiary Square. He studies local and regional history and is a graduate of Auburn University, University of Alabama at Birmingham and Georgia College. He was a participant in 2014 NEH's Reconsidering Flannery O’Connor and the 2015 Flannery O’Connor and Other Southern Women Writers. He is an eternal student of Flannery O’Connor and all who love her and her work.

Friday, November 25, 2016

First There Is a Mountain, Then There Is No Mountain, Then There Is

On this holiday weekend, revisiting this essay from Jimmy Dean Smith on his family and a trip to Andalusia seems fitting. All of us here at the farm hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.
-Daniel Wilkinson, Blog Editor

November 8, 2014: Today is my son Brendan’s thirtieth birthday. A few weeks before he was born, the obstetrician snooping around my wife, Sharee’s, belly via sonogram grinningly asked whether we wanted to know what it was, boy or girl. For reasons that were explained to us much later by friends who were appalled that two such innocent people could cross streets by themselves much less be allowed to procreate, the question itself and the doctor’s absolute certainty about its answer told us, or would have told us if we were marginally sentient, all anyone with a lick of sense really needed to know. (In those prehistoric days, before 3D sonograms removed much of the mystery, boy-fetuses would sometimes arrange themselves so as to, ummm, protrude demonstratively. Embryonic girls were capable of all sorts of things, but not this singular feat. That is, being absolutely sureabout the baby’s sex = protrusion. That is, thirty years ago the ob-gyn saw the kid preening like an Andalusian peacock. )

But No, we said. We want it to be a surprise. We very likely grinned adorably and gazed into each other’s eyes (which we still do, by the way). What our willful ignorance meant was frustrating the dickens out of well-meaning sex-role-determining relatives who were intent on color-coding the little miracle’s blankets and onesies according to sex. Should Gramps buy a teensy baseball glove or an eensy doll-baby? Should Aunt Myrtle get him a He-Man poster or get her a Strawberry Shortcake print? Hammers or teacups? It also meant that Sharee and I pored over every single page of Three Thousand Names for Baby, a pocket-sized booklet we found in the checkout aisle at the Westgate Winn-Dixie. It cost $1.95 and was scripture for the month or so we sat up in bed marking it with a blue Bic pen, a checkmark for Maybe, an X for No, an obliterating scratchout for Consignment to Baby Name Limbo (farewell forever, Eloise). Sure, we gave thought to time-honored family names, but we kept coming back to the baby book for ideas.

We finally made a decision, mostly by tossing the invaluable book (too many choices!) and winging it. Since you are the kind of smart person who logs onto the Andalusia Farm blog, you must already have figured out where this story is going. If we had a boy, we decided, we would call him Brendan (which we did, and which we did). For a girl’s name, we picked Flannery. I have no recollection at all what her full name was to be: Flannery Grace? Emma Flannery? I am relatively certain that it would not have been “Mary Flannery,” though a double-decker Southern name like that is the norm in my family (see my very own name). At that time, I am almost positive, I had no idea of O’Connor’s first name.

I am also almost positive that “Flannery” was not actually in the baby book. Instead, I had read a few of her stories when I was an undergraduate in South Carolina who came to her for “Good Man” and stuck with her for what I mistakenly took to be a punk ethos. (The two photo post cards on my office bulletin board are of Flannery seated beneath her self-portrait and Patti Smith from the Horses cover.) I often heard her name when I was studying in the Hollins College graduate program in ‘83-4. O’Connor had done a reading at Hollins during the last year of her life, and her opening remarks before reading “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” are gathered, as “On Her Own Work,” in Mystery and Manners. One or two of the professors who taught me—John Rees Moore; somebody else (?)—had known her. A classmate whose specialty was screenwriting came up with a totally copyright-violating script based on “Good Country People” (though in her improved version Manley Pointer absconded with Joy-Hulga’s glass eye). Another classmate, one who claimed to have met Ric Ocasek of the Cars in a men’s room and Joey Ramone at a bank of payphones and Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers (“So I said, ‘Hey, Flea’”) in a Columbia, SC, bar, told us the story of how he and his dad drove over from South Carolina to Milledgeville one day in the early eighties and jumped the fence to Andalusia. Those of us in the grad student lounge said, “Wow.”

Sometime around the beginning of February (I just did the calculations), Brendan was conceived in an apartment complex on Robin Hood Court right outside Roanoke, Virginia. And then he was born, and then he grew up, and then he earned a Masters of Theology from Loyola of Chicago. And now he lives in Auburn, Alabama with The Wonderful Amy, who I was about to joke “is too good for him.” But they are actually exactly good enough for each other. (Hi, Amy! We love you. Make Brendan call home. His mom wants to hear from him.)

Last time I saw Brendan, who was on the way to Edisto Beach with Amy, we toured the sites of Milledgeville. Early in the afternoon, we went to the O’Connor gravesite and played Memory Hill Bingo, wherein you get a point for each grave marker that has the name, either first or last, of an O’Connor character. We peered through the windows of Sacred Heart, and I showed him where the Sanford House used to be and where the restaurant up and went to. But Andalusia, as it is for so many devout readers of O’Connor, was to be the high point. And, except for a few minutes when Brendan’s know-it-all American lit professor dad nearly got into a shouting match with a know-it-all medieval history professor who was telling the folks in his group that the boy in “The River” is an orphan, the visit was ideal. We watched The Displaced Person, simultaneously shouted “Samuel L. Jackson!!” at the same time when we recognized him in the cast, and spent the next few minutes amusing ourselves doing Sulk’s dialogue as Snakes on a Plane-era censor-approved Jackson: “I have had it with these monkey-fighting peacocks in this monkey-fighting barn!” (I sincerely apologize to the O’Connor Estate.) We toured the grounds, eying the barn’s loft with literary appreciation and an empty Schlitz Tall Boy can in the refuse heap next to the equipment shed with confusion. Because I am developing an article about the “creeper child” in O’Connor and other Southern writers, I looked for places where Sally Virginia Cope would’ve hidden. We stared at the treelines, and the trees stared back.

At last we rocked on the porch, talking with a local visitor who was up to speed on a lurid murder trial going on nearby, hankering to see a sunset that was still four or five hours away. “Look at the mountains,” I told Brendan and Amy. Of course, there are no mountains to see at Andalusia, but you might think there are if you imagine that every O’Connor story can be explained by what she saw from that same front porch, which some people apparently do. A visit to Andalusia is a brilliant way to spend several hours, but it doesn’t tell you why there’s a mountain in “The Life You Save May Be Your Own” or The Violent Bear It Away.

To think: Brendan could have been Flannery Smith! Instead, that lovely name is still up for grabs. It’s yours, Dear Reader. Take it. Or maybe unused baby names go off someplace like the souvenir jerseys and t-shirts for losing Super Bowl and World Series teams that are boxed up and delivered to poor people in third world countries. Maybe, right now in some distant country, there’s a thirty-year-old woman wearing a “KC Royals World Champs 2014” hoodie while sipping cool water out of a President John Kerry commemorative tankard, and her name is Emma Flannery Grace Smith.

Jimmy Dean Smith was a scholar at the NEH Institute “Reconsidering Flannery O’Connor” held at GCSU last summer. He writes about British, Southern, and American Literature and has developed a specialty in Appalachian literature and pop culture since moving fourteen years ago to Barbourville, Kentucky, where he lives halfway up a stripmined mountain with his wife, Sharee, and three or four sketchy dogs and some feral cats. He chairs the Department of English and directs the Honors Community at Union College. His first grandchild, Keats Gregory Smith, was born last month and is doing fine.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Supper Time on the Farm

If there’s one thing this November has shown, it’s that a Bon Vivant’s work doesn’t slow down with the falling of leaves and the long-awaited arrival of cool weather. Hot on the heels of the Bluegrass Festival, tonight, November 18, marks the first of three Supper Clubs at Andalusia, in which eight of our most generous friends are invited to dinner and rousing conversation at Flannery’s table. I, once again, get the fun work, in which I get to plate and pour (and sample) the efforts of chefs from all over Georgia and from various culinary backgrounds. In the interest of full disclosure, I also “borrow” recipes without any shame in the slightest and thereby take some of the dinner home, eventually.

The variety of cuisine at these events has been the real treat: Asian fusion, Texas briskets, and back again. The most recent dinners were provided by the good folks at Dovetail and Grow Cafe in Macon, a locally owned establishment specializing in farm-to-table dishes. (That boiled peanut hummus of theirs made an appearance at a gathering of my own friends and has caught on beautifully.) This season, Gregory Thigpen of Southern Creative Catering here in Milledgeville will join us, and already tonight’s pork loin is looking to be worth washing a dish or two.

Nearly all of the ingredients served at any Andalusia Supper Club have been sustainably sourced. These efforts get back to the true “farm” of Andalusia, when homegrown food was a matter of course and sustainability was no mere policy proscription or buzzword. So too, it’s no accident that locally grown food simply tastes better. I think back to all those peaches from my childhood that grew in an orchard across the road from my neighborhood. Even ones from the best grocery store produce section didn’t compare with the peach stand.

I rather like having my own preparations for Thanksgiving begin with a dinner for our donors at Andalusia, for we really cannot thank them enough. Their generosity keeps the farm, a physical sense of Flannery’s legacy, alive. Dinner amongst good company is but a small way of displaying our gratitude for the big help and inspiration they are.

Daniel Wilkinson will host the three Supper Club dinners at Andalusia this season and fondly remembers Chef Vivian Lee's family-style Korean Christmas pictured above. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

Bluegrass 2016: Mixing the Local and Literary

Concerning last weekend’s Bluegrass Festival, I can only offer gratitude to those who came together to put on the event. One needs only to look at numbers to realize the success of their efforts and this year’s concert. Before the first band, Good Country People, even took the stage, we had broken attendance records. By the time the Skilletlickers gave way to Packway Handle, the record for attendance had almost been doubled: over 1200 people (performers, attendees, volunteers, vendors, staff, and Bon Vivants) piled onto Andalusia’s grounds.

The festivities did not have to wait until 5:00, either. Amateur musicians brought their guitars, fiddles, dulcimers, even flutes and saws for ad hoc performances on the Hill House porch. I particularly enjoyed an “I’ll Fly Away” with our friend Andy Adams, who has lent his talents to our stage at previous festivals and to the local theatre troupe. Melanie Devore led a pair of trail walks, and those who had not yet wandered around the farm came to a new appreciation of what we have to offer other than literary pilgrimages.

What the Bluegrass Festival offers, more than anything, is what the museum world calls a chance to make “friends.” The people who attend the Festival tend to be from close by Milledgeville and are, usually, infrequent visitors to the farm. The concert marks a fairly rare opportunity for those newcomers and the dyed-in-the-wool Flannery and Andalusia fans from all over the country to mingle a little bit. The folks who live here get a chance to present their town to visitors from all over the country, and Milledgeville is far richer place for it, I wager.

I’m not sure if Flannery would enthusiastically receive the banjos and fiddles, given the unanimity of classical music in her record collection, but I bet she’d be more than pleased to see such a number of people contributing to the preservation of her homeplace. With more friends (and neighbors, at that), keeping this place alive and well becomes, if not easier, more of a certainty.

Daniel Wilkinson, Bon Vivant, served as the Master of Ceremonies at the three most recent Bluegrass Festivals.

Friday, November 4, 2016

A Real Hillbilly Girl

I wanted to write about Flannery O’Connor around the time of the Bluegrass Festival. She did not herself have tons to say about the music, though I found the following paragraph when I went looking for the word “banjo” in her letters: “We have got the bull, this one from Perry, the Mulachee Farms … My mother has named him Banjo. I couldn’t say why. I always thought that if she had a dog she’d name him Spot—without irony. If I had a dog, I’d name him Spot, with irony. But for all practical purposes nobody would know the difference.” So, there you are: a precedent for banjos at Andalusia.

It is commonplace to say that one does not know O’Connor’s fiction till one has visited Andalusia. It is true that you will see a number of sights that have inspired some of the greatest fiction in American history: the barn, the tenant house, the artificial pond, the sunset, the woods, the ladder leaned against the barn. What you won’t see, however, are mountains. I’ve looked and looked and once startled a prominent scholar (sorry, Bob Donahoo) by appearing out of the Milledgeville night and asking, “Where is the nearest mountain?” Yet O’Connor carefully sets a great deal of her work in the mountains or makes mountaineers her protagonists. What I mean is that the very absence of mountains at Andalusia makes you think that O’Connor must have put them in her fiction for a reason: the facts were not enough for the truth she needed to tell. Thus, in both of her novels, Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away, psychopathic mountain boys with preacher complexes descend upon modern cities where they homicidally albeit futilely resist God’s call. In the short story with the purposefully offensive title “The Artificial Nigger,” an old man and a boy come from the mountains to a city and in “The Life You Save May Be Your Own,” a con man whose name may be Shiflet (or that may be an alias) invades a mountain farm where two morally lost women sit looking at the same sunset and same mountains every day.

A promising new writer in 1956, Cecil Dawkins attracted the attention of O’Connor, who was typically generous with her advice as well as with her constructive criticism. Dawkins had drafted a short story, “Eminent Domain,” in which two African-American characters travel from Alabama into Appalachia. O’Connor liked the story very much, but she had concerns about it as well:
When I read [the story a second time] I realized something else. Negroes just don’t go live in the mountains. At least there are no Negroes in the Georgia or North Carolina mountains. Negroes never lived in the mountains in slavery times and now most mountain people are hostile to them. … In Georgia the sun doesn’t set on a Negro in a mountain county. The people run them out.
I want to reach into the past and correct O’Connor vis-à-vis the demography of southern Appalachia. African-Americans “never lived in the mountains in slavery times”? But of course they did, as some of Appalachia’s most impressive historians (Gordon McKinney, Wilma Dunaway) have conclusively shown. But I want you to focus not on O’Connor’s factual accuracy but on the certainty with which she posits the myth. What does the stereotype of a monocultural Appalachia, full of violent whites (the term sundown town hovers near the surface of the quotation I just read) tell us about why O’Connor sets stories in a region she never lived in, that she passed through mainly in transit on a train? Why does it matter that The Grandmother grew up in a “hillbilly dumping ground” and that The Grandmother’s beau, “Mr. Edgar Atkins Teagarden” hailed “from Jasper, Georgia”—that is, from a “mountain county”?

On May 18, 1955, O’Connor was preparing to travel to New York City for an appearance on Galley-Proof, an “NBC-TV” television program hosted by “Mr.” Harvey Breit. In a letter to Robie Macauley, O’Connor pretended to be an American comic archetype, the backcountry yokel:
Everybody who has read Wise Blood thinks I’m a hillbilly nihilist, whereas I would like to create the impression over the television that I’m a hillbilly Thomist, but I will probably not be able to think of anything to say to Mr. Harvey Breit but “Huh?” and “Ah dunno.” When I come back I’ll probably have to spend three months day and night in the chicken pen to counteract these evil influences.
Excellent analyses of this passage, like the one Jolly Kay Sharp does in Between the House and the Chicken Yard, focus on the variables in the “hillbilly nihilist” / “hillbilly thomist” binary. For a few paragraphs, however, I want to focus on the constant, on the word hillbilly. The construction of my phrase “hillbilly novelist” is designed to evoke O’Connor’s own phrases and her humorous rejection of nihilism for her Thomist form of the moral uplift of literature and also to focus attention on the word hillbilly that O’Connor playfully deploys in anticipation of how an urban audience will see her or any of the rural folk who slackjaw their way among city sophisticates.

If we understand the great American writer “Flannery O’Connor” as one of many personae deployed by Mary Flannery O’Connor—daughter of Ed and Regina, born in Savannah in 1925, baptized and christened at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, domestic fowl enthusiast, died in Milledgeville in 1964—then we can also recognize the letter-writing Andalusian O’Connor as a persistent wearer of masks, one of which is the hillbilly. In her collected letters, she uses the term, per Billboard magazine’s usage, to refer to what came to be known as “country music,” adopting a particularly winsome tone when she paraphrases a reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle who compared her first book of short stories to “’a superior hillbilly concert.’” O’Connor drily adds that “the fellow obviously adores hillbilly concerts and advises everyone to read the book” (early 1958, to Maryat Lee). Of more note are the occasions when, as with “hillbilly nihilist/Thomist,” she assumes a performative stance to recognize, ridicule, and disarm the perceptions of outsiders. Thus, for her friend Betty Hester, she describes a radio program she had recorded for broadcast on an Atlanta station, during which O’Connor read from one of her rural fictions:
The recording is supposed to be played November 23 (Friday) 7:30 p.m. station WGKA (FM). It is very bad. [The recorder] played some of it over for me but I couldn’t stand much of it. I sound like a very old woman with a clothespin on her nose and her teeth in a dish beside her. Flat ain’t the word. Dead is better. The voice is a great deal better in the dialogue as I actually sound like a real hillbilly girl.
(It is worth mentioning that, on recordings I have heard, O’Connor’s accent seems perfectly normal to me, an Upstate South Carolinian.)

Another roughly contemporaneous letter—this one also addressed to her friend Betty Hester, with whom O’Connor was alternately playful and deadly serious—likewise hints at an anxiety—or is it a mordantly comic pleasure?—about being exposed to the sophisticates of New York:
A letter from my agent today announces that “The Life You Save” will be presented February 1 on the Schlitz Playhouse at 9:30 New York time. My eager beaver friend in NY keeps sending me clippings of gossip columns, one announcing that [Gene] Kelly will star in Flannery O’Connor’s “backwoods love story.” … Kelly says “It’s a kind of hillbilly thing in which I play a guy who befriends a deaf-mute girl in the hills of Kentucky. It gives me a great chance to do some straight acting, something I really have no opportunity to do in movies.” See? He ain’t had the opportunity before. … [My] NY friend … thinks this is all hilariously funny and keeps writing me, “Has dignity no value for you?” etc. It will probably be appropriate to smoke a corncob pipe while watching this.
I should point out that she seems to be referring to the Schlitz Playhouse when, in a letter to Betty Hester, she jokes that “I am writing my agent to make haste and sell all my stories for musical comedies. There ought to be enough tap dancers around to take care of them, and there’s always Elvis Presley.” (I don’t know about you, but I would kill to see a young, sexy, scary-charismatic Elvis playing one of O’Connor’s rural sociopaths. Manley Pointer leaps to mind.) I should also point out that O’Connor, consistently sneered at the Gene Kelly production, which performs the neat trick of giving a happy ending to a story by Flannery O’Connor, though playing the “real hillbilly girl” this time earned Flannery enough money to buy Regina a refrigerator.


Jimmy Dean Smith directed the Union College (KY) Honors Program from its birth till its demise in 2016. More than 75 students, many of them first generation, benefited from membership in the Honors Community. Sic transit gloria. He has published on T.S. Eliot, George Orwell, and the Soldier-Poets of the Great War. More recently, he has published on Ron Rash, Frank X Walker, Loretta Lynn, and other icons of Appalachia. He edits the Kentucky Philological Review.

Friday, October 28, 2016

To our Volunteers:

Before all the festivities of next weekend, there’s gratitude to offer that’s both pre-emptive and overdue. The Bluegrass Festival, and indeed many of our programs at the farm, would hardly be anything at all without the efforts of our volunteers. Their efforts are frequently unglamorous and require a little dirt under the fingernails but are integral to our work in restoring and perpetuating Andalusia. Just this past weekend, a troupe of volunteers readied some of our out-buildings for the impending visitors. From those who will direct the traffic into the farm to those who will be selling CDs and t-shirts, we could accommodate only a fraction of the Festival’s attendees without those who give their time so freely.

I started my time at Andalusia with volunteering at the Bluegrass Festival, actually. 2014’s concert was in need of a host, and our Director, Elizabeth Wylie, was given my name by a mutual friend of ours. To be honest, at the time I didn’t know I could speak off the cuff to a group larger than the average English class, much less a backyard of 500+.  That first hour was a nervy one.  For the record, the nerves left once I told a couple of bad jokes and the stage lights made the crowd disappear. My experience two years ago gets at the benefits of volunteering: we can grow by stepping out of our comfort zones and letting ourselves serve others.

Our volunteers don’t stop with putting on the big events, either; their dedication is such that they seek out ways to serve. This space is chock full of guest bloggers who offer up their reflections on Flannery and Andalusia only for the joy of doing so. The Main House is welcoming and bright on a weekly basis thanks to volunteer efforts that bring in flowers and keep them watered. Thursdalusia’s beverages are iced and the February Four’s snacks are plated by people who attend those events wishing to both learn and serve. May we all go through our lives with such a purpose.

I always say I get the fun jobs on the farm, and the volunteers’ efforts make the fun jobs just that (and not a job at all, really). I envy their generous spirits and am humbled that they give their time so freely to let me “Bon Vivant” out on the farm. Thus, to all the volunteers, I, along with the rest of the staff at Andalusia, offer a hearty thanks.

Daniel Wilkinson volunteers himself at the Old Capital Museum and the Brown-Stetson-Sanford House along with a large cadre of dedicated folks when not attending to duties as Andalusia's Bon Vivant. 
To volunteer at Andalusia, give us a call at 478-454-4029.

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 Brontës 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.