“Many of my ardent admirers would be roundly shocked and disturbed if they realized that everything I believe is thoroughly moral, thoroughly Catholic, and that it is these beliefs that give my work its chief characteristics.” ~Flannery O’Connor
When my first novel, A Hunger in the Heart, was published in 2013, I’d been a writer for many years, and a huge admirer of Flannery O’Connor. And then a couple of weeks ago, on the morning of June 26, fellow author Charles Mc Nair and I entered Flannery’s house to talk about the perspectives in our own work. Charles took on Southern Fiction, fiction in general, and magical realism in his novels: Land O Goshen and Pickett’s Charge. My talk concerned Catholic Fiction, Catholic Imagination, and the influence of Flannery O’Connor on my writing. My aim was to also launch a second book, my new short story collection, Birds of a Feather—to launch it in a place that is clearly sacred to many, including those present for our event, some who traveled long distances to be there.
As for myself, I felt at home at once, almost kin. Kin because Flannery O’Connor and I share two legacies: Southern born and bred, and Catholic born and bred. From what is read in her work and in her many letters, it can be pretty well assumed that these two mindsets influenced her so much that they were all-encompassing. She could not write without communicating them, or her convictions about them. And neither can I.
For writers concerned with sin and salvation, the South is ripe for fiction. Most all native Southerners, the greatest percent Protestant, know the Bible, can quote the Bible, and try to live by the Bible. And most of them admit they are sinners in need of being saved. I don’t think you’ll find that anywhere else to such a degree. Like O'Connor, I know who I am as a writer, and I don't try to be different from that. I’ve never lived, or wanted to live, anywhere but the South. And I've never wanted to be anything but a Catholic, despite that all the men in my family--my father, grandfather, and four uncles, were Southern and Protestant. Nearly all of those men married Southern women who were Catholics, then they, themselves, converted to Catholicism near the end of their lives. So I believe I understand--and I know I try to address—-all readers, whatever their faith, or lack of it.
The stories in my collection, Birds of a Feather, are about the commonality each of us share as human beings: sin and its risk, and the presence of God’s mercy, waiting for us to realize it’s there, and then to act with it. It’s my opinion that this common identity is key to the Catholic writer and his or her imagination.
Here’s what Flannery says about identity, from Mystery and Manners:
“…An identity is not to be found on the surface; it is not accessible to the poll taker; it is not something that can become a cliché. It is not made from the mean average or from the typical, but from the hidden and often the most extreme. It is not made from what passes, but from those qualities that endure regardless of what passes, because they are related to the Truth. It lies very deep. In its entirety, it is known only to God, but of those who look for it, none gets so close as the artist.”
So, as a Southern writer, I have taken Flannery’s words to heart. My identity is wrapped in the wonderfully changeable, material world around me—the world I live in—but as a Catholic writer, my identity is also wrapped in the mystery of mercy and grace in the immaterial world that lies deeply behind this one—because that is the world that is unchangeable and enduring.
Enjoy this article by Roxane Beauclair Salonen who attended our event at Andalusia Farm.
- Kaye Park Hinckley, Author
Kaye Park Hinckley writes Southern Fiction from a Catholic Perspective. Her debut novel, A Hunger in the Heart, about sin and salvation in a family, was published in April, 2013, by Tuscany Press. Her short stories have appeared in Dappled Things, the 2012 Tuscany Prize for Catholic Fiction anthology, and elsewhere. She and her husband live in Dothan, Alabama and have five children and nine grandchildren. Her website is www.kayeparkhinckley.com and her blog site is www.aworldontheedge.com. Kaye's short collection, Birds of a Feather, will be published by Wiseblood Books on July 14, 2014. Both books are available on Amazon, from the publishers, or your favorite bookstore.