Saturday, March 25, 2017

Happy Birthday, Flannery!

Today, we celebrate what would have been Flannery O’Connor’s 92nd birthday. Some new friends from Iowa making their “pilgrimage” to Milledgeville even brought a cake to the farm to mark the occasion. Flannery’s 91st birthday fell on Good Friday, and thus the day was rendered slightly less festive, but the 92nd brings with it the first right and proper days of Spring. It was a beautiful day for a celebration. I’m sure our friends down in Savannah at the Childhood Home celebrated in style today, as well. Were she with us to take part, I’m sure she’d have a sardonic comment and a wry smile over Coke, coffee, and cake.

Flannery didn’t have too much to say concerning birthdays, outside of a couple pearls of wisdom in The Habit of Being that extol the virtues of childhood after growing into adulthood. Surviving childhood, she held, taught one all that was required to succeed. Her dictum may be a bit reductive and smack of all those meddlesome teachers and “innerleckshuls” found in her fiction, but we can forgive someone who had only 39 birthdays of wanting to learn efficiently. So too, birthdays that occurred at Andalusia had the specter of lupus hanging over them; aging, no doubt, came painfully.

However, as the blooms take over the plants and Manley Pointer II readies his new crop of tailfeathers, new beginnings hover all around Flannery’s birthday, too. As Flannery would look to Easter and the Lenten season for renewal, we can look merely to the arrival of Spring to get that sense of novelty and vitality this time of year. Thus, in the spirit of birthdays and new beginnings, we look to her fiction and life and find ourselves transformed in the ways that she’d shout at our “hard-of-hearing” egos and “almost blind” senses of self. Thank you, Flannery, and happy birthday.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Behind A Guided Tour

With the arrival of Spring and its warm days, the tour season is upon us at the farm. While we do our best to show all of our visitors the ins and outs of life at Andalusia, sometimes those busy days get the best of us and there’s just too many folks to greet. That’s, of course, a good problem; I relish a house full of visitors. One of the reasons I enjoy the tour groups, though, is the ability to slow down a little bit. All of us have a few standard stories that we tell to the visitors, but a good tour is not all boilerplate. I rather like to digress, as if my entries on this blog haven’t given me up already, and I’ll divulge where I get some of my anecdotes.

One, of course, is Brad Gooch’s biography. Gooch’s research and interviews with folks who knew Flannery personally are an invaluable resource for questions about how daily life went for her and Regina. The pictures in that book, while largely familiar to most of us, are a page flip away for those who have never seen daily life at Andalusia during its days as a functional farm.

Further interviews with personal acquaintances of Flannery are available in a volume compiled on behalf of Andalusia by our former director, Craig Amason, and Dr. Bruce Gentry, Professor of English at Georgia College and a member of our board of directors. The folks in At Home With Flannery knew the O’Connors personally and interacted with Flannery and Regina in various capacities, from local business owners to piano teachers, and their perspectives provide me with a useful third set of eyes. These folks bring me out of what Flannery called “the darkness of the familiar” in one of her letters.

My most frequently-consulted source is, indeed, our old, heavily annotated The Habit of Being. Our directors put (here I’ll use a precise, scientific measurement) a whole slew of sticky notes and place markers in a hardback copy of Habit that point to specific structures and people unique to Andalusia. These highlights cover everything from Flannery’s visitors to farmhands’ family crises to the news of what flowers the birds recently took to eating. They’re Flannery’s words and feelings, of course, but she’s a fair reporter, I think. Sheer use has given that volume a bit of a lean and a couple of bare places in the cloth cover, but I won’t replace it anytime soon.

Thus, there’s more than physical renovations happen out on the farm. It’s my goal never to give the same tour twice. I try to hit the highlights that everyone’s there to see and hear about, but I try too to find some particular interests: the things a group has recently read, their experience with farmhouses of our vintage, and the like. The principle, as I frequently state in this space, is to engender a lifelong love of learning in our visitors through our love of our space and our writer. And if I have to go read compelling interviews and pithy, witty letters to give our visitors something to remember, I’d say we’re all winners!

Daniel Wilkinson is an Instructor of English at Georgia College and Andalusia's Bon Vivant. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Lent on the Farm

With Ash Wednesday on March 1st, the Lenten season has begun. Ashen foreheads were prevalent about Milledgeville on Wednesday, and no doubt many discussions took place about what luxuries and comforts will be given up during the next forty days. In our grand tradition of missing the point on purpose, my Grandmother and I always gave up rutabagas and Brussels sprouts this time every year, and our Springtimes have been unanimously wonderful. We are pleased to carry on with such a bewildering array of lifestyle changes this year, of course. If it ain’t broke. . .

Those who give up things that they actually like during this time of year will likely say that refusing a couple of life’s luxuries in order to replace them with increased focus on the divine is a greatly enriching experience. I have no cause to doubt them, and I suspect that the irreligious amongst us can agree in principle. Many of us find that the “off the grid” aspects of a vacation—when we can turn the phones off, let the email program auto-reply for us, and stay out of conference rooms—are the most vital aspects of getting away, long before the luxuries of our destination have their effects on us. We can, to borrow a phrase from a certain Roman Catholic writer, with one eye squinted take a sacrifice as a blessing.

This spirit has put Easter atop the list of my favorite holidays. The sacrifices of Lent and the mournfulness of Holy Week give way on Easter Sunday to celebration and a renewed sense of purpose and direction. Even the sacred music that churches use during this time of year reflects this range of emotions; to answer Friday’s “Were You There?” with Sunday morning’s “Hallelujah Chorus” gets at the transformative nature that the preceding forty days are supposed to have on those who participate.

We can’t get you permanently off the grid out at the farm, but we can offer a little peace and quiet on the trail or the porches. Even during the times when I’m a bit swamped with some behind-the-scenes duties at Andalusia, a quiet moment with Manley II and Joy at the aviary can be just enough of a “detox” that brings back my sense of focus. A little renewal can go a long way indeed.

Sacred Heart Catholic Church, site of many an Ash Wednesday for Flannery and Regina O'Connor

Daniel Wilkinson is an Instructor of English at Georgia College, Bon Vivant at Andalusia, and was for a recent Lent season, Interim Minister of Music at First United Methodist Church of Milledgeville.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

And the Award Goes To:

I must confess: I’ve never been an avid Oscars watcher. Likely stemming from a tendency to stay away from movie theaters, the awards have always been more of a news item to read during the following Monday morning than appointment viewing. I’ve always been one to wait a while and watch a movie from the comfort of my own couch than to head off to the cineplex, save for a now yearly convoy of several friends to the latest Star Wars release.

One might think that teaching would put me in a theater seat more often in order to stay apprised of new developments on the adaptations front, but literary adaptations have not done well for themselves in recent years, especially adaptations of Southern literature. I think immediately of James Franco’s attempts at As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury; Faulkner is hard to even read, much less to put on camera. I have to go back to No Country for Old Men for the last time a Southern work made award-season hay, and even then I have to stretch a good bit to put Cormac McCarthy into the Southern canon. 

I am cautiously optimistic about the forthcoming version of “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” being written by Benedict Fitzgerald, the son of Sally and Robert Fitzgerald. As far as literary adaptations go, Fitzgerald has a writing credit for John Huston’s Wise Blood and a wonderful TV miniseries version of Moby Dick with Patrick Stewart and Gregory Peck, so I’m hopeful for this film. However, the most engaging moments in “A Good Man” take place on a back road and in dialogue between only two characters, and all the while some starkly violent things are happening off in the woods, largely out of our view. It will require some, shall we say, interesting directorial work to film a story about a whole family’s getting murdered while dealing with some rather deep theology at the same time.

Adaptations of Flannery’s fiction have been hit-and-miss over the years. As much as Brad Dourif has spoiled me with his Hazel Motes from Huston’s Wise Blood, the rest of the movie doesn’t quite “sing” like the novel, but I suspect I am biased in favor of prose. My favorite remains The Displaced Person filmed at Andalusia, and not merely because the farm is featured in it. 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. Indeed, the production crew even refilled the pond for us at the bottom of the hill for a wonderful shot of the house. The main house and the Hill House look lived-in, but comfortable. The plot itself is quite faithful to the story, down to Mrs. McIntyre’s self-assurance and Mrs. Shortley’s fatal indignity.

Flannery’s stories, I suspect, may be rather difficult to film. That narrator of hers, at times caustic but always honest with us, is hard to replace with a camera. Actors, too, will have a tough time beating out the ones she’s put in my head. I’ll prefer, at least for the time being, to head out to the farm and have the “play” of the story set before me in the landscape.



Daniel Wilkinson is an Instructor of English at Georgia College, Bon Vivant at Andalusia, and a huge fan of Roger Ebert. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

On First Looking Into Flannery's Homeland

The first time I visited Andalusia, I was a high school student from an adjacent county; the trip was organized, and likely funded, by my free-spirited, flower child GT teacher, and while I am sure we were assigned at least one Flannery O’Connor story, I don’t think I understood a single thing about her work. It was probably “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” and since I knew where Toomsboro was—my father took us through there countless times when tracking down a genealogical lead or a good fishing spot—I probably responded with a “Cool” and thought very little about the brilliant and formidable writer from the next county over. In the late seventies, her name was floated around our rural community, but few of us were aspiring literary researchers, and even fewer of us thought writing a viable career path.

We were practical, the progeny of agrarians, or career military men, our mothers were at home cooking cornbread, and even those of us who wanted to read and write “literature,” stored those ideas for some future in which aliens from another solar system cured cancer with light sabers. The name Flannery O’Connor echoed quietly, like Culver Kidd, or Aaron Burr, who purportedly spent the night in the Warthen jail. It was not as common as “Silk Stocking Street,” or the official “Georgia Plate” designs--our own county’s claims to fame. O’Connor made a little rumble, but even in Milledgeville five to ten years later, O’Connor’s work and reputation seemed something stored in small pillbox, silver and velvet lined and valued, but also hidden away with the good silver and protected by those with the access key.

This woman whose writing I came to know, was still on the other side of the river. And on that day, my first time to visit Andalusia, I had to cross that river, the Oconee, and a greater, more treacherous river, the one running so swiftly, so filled with eddies and currents that it might pull me under--that river which stood between the real world and the writer. So: there the river—and me in my little high school row boat.

Across the river were the lucky few, the writers, and they weren’t real, not real like those of us who rode a schoolbus, and went fishing with our grandparents and came home covered in redbug bites. Not real like the hopeful older brothers who thought the kaolin mining industry was the new salvation.

But there I was, and there she had been—from my father’s generation, and she saw the same “Jesus Saves” signs and we both had driven through “Goat Town” and had watched the hydro-electric dam being built. The same flood of technology swept our lives, shifted our stable one-income homes, pulled our mothers into the workforce and independence.

We watched the same suffering of poverty and racial inequality rip our cultural fabric, and we watched with bulging eyes and gasping breaths as our grocery stores and our schools became barricaded, our many divided institutions rumble toward a solid and integrated system, like an earthquake reversing itself.

What do I remember of my visit to Andalusia that day? Only a few peacocks, people still farming, I think. I remember a tractor running, but maybe it’s only in my imagination, whetted by my much later reading of “The Displaced Person.” Time—even now—seems convoluted; how could I have gone there, and not seen some likely spot for Mr. Guizac’s end, or the very cow from which Asbury’s undulant fever ensued? Historically, I wasn’t so far from the years O’Connor conceived and wrote those narratives. But that first day, I knew nothing, really, of O’Connor’s characters or fictive world. And yet---

I remember rust on some of the screens, a wooden table with a cloth that partially covered it. I remember being introduced to Mrs. O’Connor, her offering us lemonade from the table in the yard. I remember her demeanor, one of kindness and suffering, of a kind of earned pride. We did not go inside. I remember a breeze , gauzy, cotton curtains flowing into the dark and hidden rooms.

I remember the sensation of being somewhere important, somewhere that was changing me, almost like a birth. I felt the way I have felt many, many times since--when reading her stories and novels and letters.

I have visited many other times, often alone, but at times with friends or family members whom I forced on pilgrimages, willing them to feel the sacred in every board or feather or pinecone (which I just now remembered calling “pinecombs” as a child). Several times, when the farm was closed to the public, I drove out highway 441, and parked somewhere close, walked back down to the entrance and touched the chain that held the sign reading “Private Property.” Once, I climbed under the chain and negotiated the dirt drive, weaving in and out of the trees to conceal myself, just to get close enough to see the house. (Gosh, I hope the statute of limitations has run out on being prosecuted for this crime--involuntary as a sneeze as it was.)

Something of Flannery still moves here. I can see it when I follow the tours, the most recent of which was with the National Endowment for the Humanities scholars this past July. The first time I touched that soil, something grew in me. Something still grows in me, a hunger for more than just her words. Her vision, I think.

Next time I visit, I plan to take off my shoes, grind the dirt between my toes, and find, once more, some molecule of the world that Flannery O’Connor wove into being. I urge anyone reading to visit. But be careful. You won’t be able to go just once. Even if a chain and sign do go up again.


Sue Whatley is a native of Georgia, transplanted to East Texas, who consoles herself on the inferior Texas versions of her beloved Georgia pine trees and red clay. She teaches at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, and coordinates the Christian Writers Fellowship, a long-time writer’s support group there. Her BA from Georgia College, her MA from Northeast Louisiana University, and her PhD from Texas A&M, Dr. Whatley has proudly engaged Flannery O’Connor’s work with every step of her travels. When she retires, she intends to follow Flannery’s pursuits—writing and working with other writers, making people laugh, and raising peafowl, though she has no plans for teaching any of them to walk backwards.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Valentine's Day on the Farm

Valentine’s Day this year falls on a Tuesday. I have a standing trivia contest engagement each Tuesday evening, so I personally am unbothered and rather thankful that I’ll be occupied. It’s cheaper that way, to say nothing of less stressful. That does not mean, however, that I can completely avoid matters of the heart, in that the farm can be a rather romantic place. Museums have long been a solid choice for an afternoon out with a loved one, and Andalusia is no exception.

A reader of Flannery’s fiction doesn’t have to concern themselves too frequently with love stories, except for those who enjoy the travails of Manley Pointer and Hulga Hopewell. A tour of high-school students this past week was particularly well-read, and they took special enjoyment of the cow barn, having previously looked at “Good Country People” in class. They also inquired, as one would, of Erik Lankjaer, Flannery’s occasional visitor and correspondent. So much “young adult” literature is rife with thin characters and completely impossible and sickeningly sweet love stories, and it is refreshing to see those kids read and get something out of a “date” that goes so badly awry.

For all its literary significance, local and repeat visitors of Andalusia most often bring their pets and the family and focus on the scenic beauty of the place. In years past, I personally have brought a picnic and a story to share with my company; those with little or only a passing interest in O’Connor invariably came away a fan. (Or either I just read it well.) A certain set of peafowl are also a wonderful attraction; Manley Pointer I once proffered a companion of mine a fanning of his feathers and a dance, and I'll be forever grateful.

Thus, while your Tuesday may be filled with flowers and chocolates and gourmet dinners, I hope the days leading up to your February 14th can have at least one long walk and a good story. After all, flowers wilt and chocolates melt, but the company they’re enjoyed with will make them last. Cheers!

Thanks again, MP! 

Daniel Wilkinson edits Andalusia's blog when not entertaining the farm's guests and teaches English at Georgia College. 

Friday, February 3, 2017

(Mis)Adventures in the Arts

I have, in recent years, avoided New Years resolutions altogether. Usually, a vow to lose weight and read more of the untouched or unfinished books on my shelf ends up broken in circumstances that clearly are never my fault whatsoever. I end up feeling bad about it all twice over: I remain too well-fed and less well-read. This time by, I broke down and hopped back on the resolution bandwagon, intending this year to end my estrangement from the world of the visual arts. With my coworkers at Andalusia having a past in the art scene, I’d best figure it out. A visit to the Columbus (GA) Museum of Art in my younger days did not provide the revelations I had wanted. Perhaps I was too young.

To this point, then, my relationship with visual art has been fraught, to say the least. I’d like to think I’m a decent reader with a fair set of interpretive standards. I can’t seem to bring them to bear on the visual art world, however. I’ve got a very weak standard for visual art: Do I like it? For every artwork that I can get my word-addled noggin around, there’s a dozen that completely flummox me. A deceptively simple “What does it mean?” can render me completely nonplussed. The Rembrandts and Van Goghs can already stump me; by the time the abstract modernists come along and start seemingly just flinging paint at canvases, I’m hopelessly lost. Perhaps I’m asking the wrong questions.

Critics haven’t been much help to me, either. Modern art criticism has fallen on the same tendency that so bedevils modern literary criticism: impenetrability. Tom Wolfe’s The Painted Word tried its level best to provide some sunlight-as-disinfectant in 1975 with a more simplistic analysis of modern art and its critics, but left me with little to go on as far as how to understand works of art. The Painted Word was, however, a master class in crankiness, and for that I am grateful.

Flannery herself might help; we do have a reproduction of her self-portrait hanging on the wall in the front parlor, after all. Between the paintings and her cartoonist gig for the Georgia State College for Women newspaper, I suspect she’d be a good sounding board if nothing else. Unfortunately, Mystery & Manners contains only literary (and avian, if you like) criticism.

Thus, I approach our first guests to Andalusia’s February Four lecture series with a little hope in mind. Flannery’s Farrar, Strauss & Giroux paperback covers by June Glasson and Charlotte Strick have proved a striking and welcome change, and I’m looking forward to hearing and seeing how these ladies can merge the “What does it mean?” of narrative and visual arts. I’m hoping that getting inside a creative process for these artworks will give me a little help in understanding other ones. When pressed again, I want to have something a little more substantial to say than “Isn’t that nice!”

Daniel Wilkinson teaches English (fortunately for his students) at Georgia College and is a Visitor Services Assistant and Bon Vivant at Andalusia. 

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Sporting "Distractions"

Milledgeville—and indeed very nearly all of Georgia and I hope the South at large—awaits the arrival of the evening of February 5th. Right after the February Four presentation on O’Connor’s new book covers by artists June Glasson and Charlotte Strick, our Atlanta Falcons, will take the field at the Super Bowl. The franchise’s history is something out of a Flannery story, really; times of competent play and frequent victories give way invariably to ignominious defeats aplenty with little warning. With little exception, the Falcons have, in short, had Human Development hit them right between the eyes fairly consistently for fifty-one seasons, far more often than Ruby Turpin in “Revelation.” Nevertheless, a Turpin-like grieving over the Falcons’ fate remains for the fans.

All this losing over the years has contributed to no small amount of apprehension among us Atlanta faithful. We might be celebratory this week (hence the inspiration for this post), but it will yield next week to something more somber and darkly anticipatory. The Raybers of the sports world will attempt with their statistical studies and prognostications to dissuade the longtime fan of his misgivings, but the prophecies-come-true of the past fifty years are hard to ignore. Sunday afternoons on Bon Vivant duty at the farm have often been a welcome change in the Fall and Winter months, as the guests free me from the obligation of checking the score.

Flannery herself didn’t have to worry about Atlanta-area sports during her lifetime, of course, though the Georgia Bulldogs not far away in Athens likely occupied a significant enough share of the news. In the fiction, sports are largely a distraction; I think immediately of a newspaper sports section that occupies Bailey’s mind at the beginning of “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” I hope Flannery would be a little heartened by Atlanta’s uniting in support of the Falcons during a, shall we say, contentious moment in our country.

Our modern Andalusia has turned toward the sporting world to good effect, however. Our warm January has brought the outdoorsy folks an early taste of Spring, and they’ve taken advantage of what the farm offers. Our hiking trail and open spaces bring a fairly consistent number of local, repeat visitors inside our gates, and we’re happy to have them and their frisbees and footballs as often as they’ll join us. It’s my hope we’ll have the full range of guests on a warm February Sunday forthcoming: the lecture audience, the faraway travelers on a literary pilgrimage, and the picnicking hikers. Cheers!

In Iowa, Flannery takes to UGA apparel amid the snow and cold. Notwithstanding her time in Connecticut, I feel she would take the Falcons over New England next week, if for no other reason that their mascot is a bird. 

Daniel Wilkinson, a Visitor Services Assistant and Bon Vivant at Andalusia, is a poor football prognosticator but tries his best.  

Friday, January 20, 2017

Flannery in the Time of Politics

Last December, I was heartened by an article in the Paris Review concerning "The Displaced Person" and David Griffith's ability to find therein some personal help on a hot-button issue.  I found myself encouraged not necessarily because I agreed with his policy thoughts or even his interpretation of the story itself, but for the essayist's ability to look into the views of someone whom he believes to have been a bit too recalcitrant for her own good on social issues.  Flannery's biography or theology might not provide a ready list of virtues for him, but her art does. Griffith finds in literature a possible solution to a big, troublesome, societal-level problem, and surely that's a step in the right direction.  In much the same way, when Flannery looks to rural Protestants for her characters, I am encouraged that someone so different than they can use them so deftly and, oddly enough, believably. 

Reading Flannery should remind us that history is a long time in its making, and philosophy even longer.  David Griffith found out as much when he struggles with the immigration issue nearly six decades after Flannery's own foray into the topic.  I look over the fields here and can but imagine what they looked like when they were being plowed by the real Displaced People. Teaching Wise Blood this week, I found myself wondering what Hazel Motes would think about whether or not his "Church Without Christ" might still be with us today, hiding out under a more palatable label. I cannot be discouraged that these big issues haven't been solved yet, even though minds far greater than my own have fought round after round over them. In trying to avoid the rancor of modern politics, we can find an example not very far away.

In hosting the various members of the Milledgeville intelligentsia here at the farm, I can find in Flannery's own life an example of how those with opposing views enrich and sharpen me. From professors to businesspeople to poets to holy men of all stripes, they were welcomed here by a warm hostess and their ideas found clear, reasoned voice and, more importantly, gracious reception. May we all be so joyously inviting. More importantly, may we evaluate these ideas soberly and righteously and continue to welcome those who espouse those ideas.

It's a unique privilege as an English educator that I'm free to participate in this Great Debate and to train up new participants for it.  I wish for my students an intellectual life in which they can readily seek out the whole range of events, philosophies, and policies. Though here at the farm we can focus on Flannery the person and the life that Andalusia's workers lived, our ultimate aim is to spread the message of a lifelong passion for learning, for new ideas, and I'm thankful that I can work in the home of such an exemplary learner. 

Katherine Anne Porter, herself not exactly a Roman Catholic writer, welcomed by a familiar lady of, shall we say, different sensibilities.

Daniel Wilkinson is an Instructor of English at Georgia College and the Bon Vivant of Andalusia Farm. 

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.