Thursday, September 22, 2011

Flannery's Stud

No, this post is not going to be about Erik Langkjaer, the Danish textbook salesman that stole Flannery's heart. In fact, the admirer I'm referring to never even met O'Connor. Their differences couldn't have been greater. Unlike Flannery, he hailed from the North, was as Chicago as deep-dish pizza, and an agnostic (or a "cowardly atheist," as he deprecatingly called himself). And yet, for all their differences, the legendary disk jockey, actor, and oral historian Studs Terkel was a big fan of Flannery O'Connor. In his autobiography, Touch and Go, Terkel cites O'Connor's writings as being a major influence in his life and work. Having recently finished this book, I was surprised by the number of times Terkel mentions O'Connor. Specifically, it was her short story "The River" that was something of an epiphany for him. In the story the main character is a little boy named Harry/Bevel who is ignored and neglected by parents who could have come right out of a Tennessee Williams play. One day he is taken by his babysitter to a religious revival down by a red, muddy river. He decides to be baptized and is told by the preacher that now he counts. Terkel kept coming back to this story because he thought that this is what every human being wants most: to count. Of course, he and O'Connor would disagree on how that goal is achieved (O'Connor emphasizes sacramental grace), but I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that, without Flannery O'Connor, we might not have such classics as Working and Hard Times, where the real-life stories of little guys struggling to count are recalled in the memorable prose of Studs Terkel.
- Mark

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