Friday, November 29, 2013


In the Nov. 20th edition of The Telegraph (Macon, Georgia) columnist Paige Henson wrote an interesting piece about how (or even if) Flannery O'Connor would have made use of social media were it available in her day.  Henson, who for years ran an ad agency in Macon, is an expert in the implementation of social media for businesses seeking to maximize their outreach.  She is also a big O'Connor fan.  In this article (which unfortunately you can't link to from the paper's website) Henson goes through the different media out there - everything from Facebook and Twitter to LinkedIn and Instagram) and speculates on how Flannery would have utilized it.  With the exception of LinkedIn, Henson believes O'Connor would have taken to social media like a duck to water.  I'm not so sure.  For one thing, it is important to remember that Flannery O'Connor was an intensely private person.  I cannot, therefore, see her Tweeting or posting to Facebook.  Nor can I see her posting selfies on Instagram.  On the other hand she did have a good many friends who I think she would have stayed connected to via emails and text messages.  The other thing to remember about Flannery is that when it came to publishing anything that had her name on it she was a perfectionist.  Modern social media by its very nature precludes the kind of thoughtful precision that Flannery felt was so necessary to her writing.  Blogging, on the other hand, allows for a greater degree of editorial control and so I think she might have been a good blogger.  Its' fun to speculate, but I think it's possible that O'Connor may have shunned the whole business.  She was, after all, something of a Luddite who even found it impossible to make the change from a manual to an electronic typewriter (she didn't care for the sound it made or the pesky way it would repeat letters if a key was struck too hard).  She may have been suspicious of social media and may have thought it was just too confoundedly newfangled to bother with.  Personally, I'm glad it wasn't around during O'Connor's lifetime.  Otherwise, we wouldn't have all those wonderful letters (even though I'm fairly certain Flannery would not have wanted them published).  Thank you to Paige Henson for providing a lively topic for discussion. 
- Mark

Friday, November 22, 2013

Farewell Craig

Craig Amason
Flannery O'Connor did say it best:  A good man is hard to find.  He's even harder to say good-bye to.  Sadly alas, next Wednesday we say so long to our executive director, Craig Amason.  Believe it or not, he has been at Andalusia just about as long as Flannery - 13 years.  It has been my honor and pleasure to work under him for four of those years.  What Craig has accomplished during his tenure is pretty amazing.  When the Foundation was established in 2001 and he was named its first director, Andalusia was in pretty dilapidated shape.  So much restoration work had to be done just to open the place to the public.  Craig undertook this enormous task with extraordinary competence and good cheer.  Through his Herculean efforts, O'Connor's home received its first visitors in 2003.  Yet much more work needed to be done.  When I visited the farm for the first time in June, 2009, the Hill House was covered with vines, the dairy processing shed needed work, the cow barn was on the verge of falling down, and there were none of the attractions that we take for granted today such as the aviary and peacocks.  While Andalusia has benefited from the generosity of its donors, it would not be what it is today without Craig's hard work and dedication.  His love for Flannery and her art is reflected in his labors to make Andalusia one of the premier literary landmarks in this country.  His enthusiasm for O'Connor is contagious.  I have watched him hold school groups spell-bound with the passion of a street preacher.  Flannery could not have found a more committed evangelist.  Yet he is no ideologue.  He just loves O'Connor's fiction and that love is reflected in his work at Andalusia.  In the summer 2013 Friends newsletter, Paula Lawton Bevington observed aptly that Craig is going to be succeeded not replaced.  He's also going to be missed by so many of us.  It seems appropriate in a way that he leaves us the day before Thanksgiving, for we owe him a debt of gratitude for all he has done to preserve and promote Andalusia.  Please join me in wishing him and his lovely wife, Amy, all the best in their new life in Demorest, Georgia.
- Mark

Friday, November 15, 2013

Promoting Literacy

Attention Flannery O'Connor Scholars!  As you know many of the seminal books in O'Connor criticism are no longer in print (e.g. Carter Martin's The True Country).  Fortunately, they are still readily available through on-line used booksellers.  Recently, I had the good fortune to stumble upon one that not only provides excellent service, but also promotes literacy.  Better World Books is an on-line retailer that sends a portion of the proceeds from sales to programs around the country that promote literacy.  This is certainly a venture Flannery O'Connor would have endorsed.  A few weeks ago I purchased Simone Petrement's authoritative biography of Simone Weil from Better World Books for just $3.47.  Not bad for a hardcover, first edition (with dust jacket) of a 576 page book that arrived in pristine condition.  In addition to the millions of dollars BWB has raised for literacy, they have also saved tons of books from landfills, created jobs for hundreds of people, and provided scads of great books to readers around the world. For more information on this most worthy endeavor, check out their website.
- Mark

Friday, November 8, 2013

White Girls

Hilton Als's first book in fourteen years, White Girls, will be released next Tuesday.  This tome has been getting a lot of critical praise, most recently in the New Yorker.  Why do I bring this to your attention?  Well, for one thing, Hilton Als has written insightful articles on Flannery O'Connor in the past and, while White Girls is not just about her, there is an essay on Flannery in this cultural study which touches on a cornucopia of hot-button issues.  "White girls," as Als dubs them, are not just female. Included under this label are writers such as Truman Capote and Malcolm X.  From what I've read, it's pretty hard to characterize this work.  According to the blurb on Amazon, Als essays "hairpin between critique and meditation, fiction and nonfiction, high culture and low, the theoretical and the deeply personal."  The reviewer goes on to say that, "Als presents a stunning portrait of a writer by way of his subjects, and [is] an invaluable guide to the culture of our time."  These accolades are echoed in reviews in Publishers Weekly and Booklist.  Coinciding with the release of White Girls, Nov. 12th is also the launch of Flannery O'Connor's much-anticipated prayer journal.  There is soon going to be a piece on it in the New York Times Book Review by Marilynne Robinson (Housekeeping, Gilead).  Seems only fitting that an author of O'Connor's stature merits such a heavy-hitter to review her little book of letters to God.
- Mark

Friday, November 1, 2013

Grace and Art

Well, the plaudits for Flannery O'Connor's forthcoming prayer journal keep pouring in.  Yesterday, at the library I picked up the November issue of Book Page which contains a very positive review of A Prayer Journal by Kelly Blewett.  In her column Ms. Blewett notes the brevity of the book, but admits that isn't a "drawback" because "the material that is here is well worth reading."  While I've read excerpts from the journal elsewhere, I loved the quip from Flannery in an entry dated September, 1947: "Today I have proved myself a glutton - for Scotch, oatmeal cookies and erotic thought."  Great zinger, especially for those who are tempted to turn O'Connor into an alabaster saint.  By the way, A Prayer Journal will be released in 11 days.  You can be sure that we will have plenty of copies for sale in our gift shop.
- Mark