Friday, April 29, 2016

The Transformative Power of Andalusia

When I returned to Georgia last summer I went to Andalusia Farm for the first time. Upon turning off of Highway 441 and driving up to the house I was struck by the beauty and peacefulness of the place as I passed rolling green meadows bordered by meandering paths, punctuated by craggy trees. The two-story white farm house where Flannery O’Connor wrote her sublime stories is gracious and welcoming, with a wide screened-in front porch furnished with rocking chairs. 

I was greeted most warmly by Assistant Director of Andalusia, April Moon Carlson, and then went on to view the fashion exhibit where I gained an appreciation for Flannery’s sense of style, and the role of fashion in her own life as well as those of her characters. I also learned a great deal about her relationship with her mother from the recently released letters on display, before stepping out into the back yard to visit the sole peacock in residence, Joy-Hulga. The longer I was there that day, the better I felt. 

I grew up in south Georgia, and lived in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, LA for twenty-six years. I now live in Milledgeville, Georgia and visiting Andalusia that day was like a homecoming. It was as though I’d discovered a part of Georgia’s past that’s still very present, one that I’d known existed but didn’t realize I could step into at any time for rejuvenation, tranquility and inspiration, which is both comforting and exciting.

I’ve been to Andalusia again and again since then and each time I feel renewed. There’s a sense of reverence in visiting the home of a great American author, but the relaxed atmosphere on the grounds and at the house makes it a retreat for readers, writers, artists and anyone who appreciates nature, beauty, and the power of imagination. Even if that retreat is just for an afternoon, its effects reverberate for days afterwards.

The high-ceilinged rooms of the farmhouse still contain vases of peacock feathers, drapes chosen by Flannery herself, and the typewriter where characters such as the Misfit, Mrs. Turpin and Hazel Motes were brought to life. Those characters along with many others, real and imaginary, populate Andalusia and this “postage stamp of earth” that Flannery O’Connor called home.

When I attended a supper at Andalusia in the fall with a menu created by a local chef and featuring Georgia-based ingredients, the conversation turned more than once to an awareness of Flannery O’Connor’s presence in the candlelit room, as well as visitors who came to the Farm when she lived here, many of whom would have spent time on the porch waiting for her to complete her morning writing session before she would receive company in that very dining room. 

It’s a joy to connect with the spirit of the place, past and present, to feel a sense of connection to Flannery O’Connor and to Georgia’s rich literary heritage: past, present and future.  I’ll be going back soon—hope to see you there!

Nevada McPherson lives with her husband Bill and rescue Chihuahua, Mitzi in Milledgeville, Georgia, where she is a professor of Humanities at Georgia Military College. Nevada received a BA in English/ Creative Writing and an MFA in Screenwriting from Louisiana State University-Baton Rouge. For information about Nevada's screenplays, graphic novels and other projects visit

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Comfort of Home

Andalusia reminds me of my childhood home. No, it’s not a farm, but there is a farm right down the road. Our house sits back in the woods, no neighbors visible. Well, you could count my Mawmaw, aunt, and cousins as neighbors— they’re the first house on our long winding driveway. But they’re not neighbors as much as just another unit of the family that’s only a two minute walk. We’re a tight knit community tucked away on an old dirt road.

When I visit I am always relieved by the silence. The evening air is full of tree frogs, cicadas, and crickets, but the chorus of humming rises and falls naturally, like it’s the forest’s heartbeat. Our porch is the perfect place to let the night air whisper against your face while you swing and look up at the stars.

The sky is so breathtakingly clear out in a place like that. Stars, comets, and entire galaxies are visible in a way that even the smallest town’s lights can obscure. I’m sure this was the case at Andalusia in Flannery’s time. After those years in town, at Iowa, and in New York, I wonder if she ever looked up at the night sky and felt at awe. The sky plays an important part in her works- blistering white afternoons, blood red sunsets, and even big turnip shaped clouds. I don’t recall any stories with night sky descriptions, but Flannery was probably too tired from the lupus and the treatments to stay up late and look at it. From what I’ve heard she did a lot of porch sitting in the afternoon or evening.

If you’ve ever been in Milledgeville at sunset, you’ve likely seen some amazing colors splashed across the sky. These beautiful sunsets are especially breathtaking at Andalusia (hence the new Thursdalusia series) where the light dances under the trees and winks off the pond. I can imagine Flannery taking all of this in as she spent time convalescing with her mother and the other members of the farm. It’s well recorded that she was reluctant to return to Milledgeville, but I think the farm did her good. I suffer from migraines, anxiety, and depression; trying to maintain an active life and still take care of my body can be exhausting.

My visits home aren’t necessarily frequent; it’s a three hour drive to Centralhatchee and I’m happy with my life in Milledgeville. But the visits are good for me and after a weekend of fresh air and quiet, I feel a little more in touch with something spiritual. For Flannery, I’m sure it was God- she was famous for being as devout a Catholic as they come. I’m not sure what it is for me yet; maybe God, maybe Mother Nature, maybe just peace with my own thoughts. The name of it doesn’t really matter to me. I just know that if I need to find a little bit of whatever it is while I’m in Milledgeville, I can drive out to Andalusia and breathe.

Jessica McQuain is a senior Creative Writing and Spanish double major at Flannery's alma mater, Georgia College. She enjoys gardening, reading, and writing poetry. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

How Flannery O'Connor Did Money

On Tax Day, we thought it somehow appropriate to repost a blog by Brooke Hatfield that originally appeared September 23, 2013 in the online journal The Billfold: Everything You Wanted to Know about Money But Were Too Polite to Ask.

"How Flannery O’Connor Did Money"
by Brooke Hatfield

“I never believe nothing unless I got the money.” — Flannery O’Connor, April 1952

American novelist Flannery O’Connor was real about getting paid. In The Habit of Being, a book of her letters, she writes about theology, literary theory, and life on her family’s farm, but she also talks about money. The transactional language that punctuates these epistolary glimpses into her remarkable career reveal that the uncompromising mind behind some of the last century’s finest writing believed firmly in that mind’s financial worth.

O’Connor was demanding of herself, and of her first publisher, Rinehart, whose notes on her work she found “conventional.” “If they don’t feel I am worth giving more money to and leaving alone, then they should let me go,” O’Connor wrote in a 1949 letter to her mentor. She was 25.
O’Connor didn’t beat around the bush in her first letter to her first agent, Elizabeth McKee: “I am writing you in my vague and slack season and mainly because I am being impressed just now with the money I am not making by having stories in such places as American Letters.” In her second letter, O’Connor says that the book she’s working on (which would become Wise Blood) would be a year in coming. “I will need an advance for that year,” she writes. At this point in O’Connor’s career, she was certainly a promising writer — a graduate of the University of Iowa’s prestigious creative writing graduate program and winner of the Rinehart-Iowa Fiction Award, she’d even published a few short stories — but here she is straight up asking her brand-new agent to make it rain, please and thank you, and lo, it comes to pass!

“I do believe that she was quite savvy about the business side of being a writer, and she understood the difference between art and commerce,” says Craig Amason, the executive director of The Flannery O’Connor-Andalusia Foundation.

In 1950, while in her mid-20s, O’Connor was diagnosed with lupus. She moved home, from Connecticut to Andalusia, her family’s dairy farm near Milledgeville, Ga., where she raised peafowl and wrote the majority of her fiction. It is safe to assume she was not a pauper. O’Connor attended college and graduate school, and her uncle Bernard Cline, who owned Andalusia, was an Atlanta doctor with enough wealth to buy a the 550-acre estate. But O’Connor’s mother Regina ran Andalusia as a working farm. “No one ran a dairy in the 1950s as a hobby,” Amason says. “Regina Cline O’Connor must have needed an income.”

That said, O’Connor had the luxury of focusing all her limited energy on writing.1 She was adamant about selling her work to publications like the Kenyon Review and Harper’s Bazaar. In 1961 she received $750 for an essay entitled “Living with a Peacock,” which appeared in the now-defunct Holiday magazine. “More than I have ever got for any piece of writing, by about half,” she wrote. “Crime pays.”

As her career progressed, O’Connor was increasingly asked to lecture at colleges and literary festivals. She saw the engagements as a necessary evil,2 and in letters to friends, she was open about her motives for the work:
“I am in terrible shape with the govermint. I made more money than usual one year on the Sisters’ book3 and the next year I had to talk at a lot of places to pay my income tax, which made me more money again so I had to talk at a lot more places which made me make more etc. etc. I’m poor as they come and getting poorer and income tax is getting higher every year and I think this must end somewhere short of the penitentiary or the poorhouse.”

In addition to publishing her fiction and lecturing, she pursued and won several writing awards during her lifetime, and many of them came with a cash prize. When she won an $8,000 Ford Foundation grant — “just $8,000 more than I was expecting” — she wrote to a friend that she intended to live for 10 years on that sum.

O’Connor also managed a handful of rental properties, but Amason says that even with her money from writing, it’s unlikely O’Connor was ever her family’s sole breadwinner. When she did splurge, it was usually on upgrades for the house.4 After O’Connor sold the television rights for The Life You Save May Be Your Own in 1956 (“It’s certainly a painless way to make money”), she bought a Hotpoint refrigerator (“the kind that spits the ice cubes at you”) that’s still on display at Andalusia.5
Cash certainly didn’t rule everything around O’Connor, but its importance wasn’t lost on her. She was compelled to write herself ragged, and money was necessary for her to continue that writing life. This was not a lonely, monastic existence, mind you; O’Connor and her mother often entertained visitors who wanted to meet the woman the New York Times called “a writer of power,” and her reams of correspondence speak to the satisfaction she found in the forming relationships she formed. Despite her lupus, and the limits it placed on her life, her letters never reveal self-pity.

A doctor once told O’Connor that her illness precluded a trip she didn’t want to take in the first place, which she recounts with her characteristic wry composure: “I am bearing this with my usual magnificent fortitude.” But the same disease that killed her father was killing her. It’s the kind of thing that could make someone need to lose themselves in work. That’s a reason to chase paper, too. (“For the last two days I have worked one hour each day and my my I do like to work. I et up that one hour like it was filet mignon.”)

As O’Connor’s lupus progressed, her medical bills mounted. Of a lengthy hospital visit: “… That was an awful long time to have to stay, particularly as I was my own guest — no insurance for lupus. I’m all for Medicare myself.” Despite weakness and hospitalization, O’Connor worked with what friends described as urgency to finish her last collection of short stories, “Everything That Rises Must Converge.”
She died from lupus-related kidney failure in 1964. She was at 39. “Revelation,” one of her last short stories, won the O. Henry Prize the next year.6

1. She was only physically capable of writing for about two hours a day, but it was a routine she devoutly clung to; the love of ritual evident in her passion for Catholicism was just as evident in her work habits.

2. She shrewdly maximized time to write fiction by repurposing lectures: “I can use practically the same thing I used at Notre Dame and they pay my way and gimme 100 dollars and I get to see the horrors of Milwaukee…”

3. A Memoir of Mary Ann, a book by the nuns of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. O’Connor helped the nuns compile the book and wrote an introduction for it.

4. Or peafowl, or chickens, or swans: “I never bought the record player,” she wrote in a Jan. 22, 1964 letter to Thomas Stritch. “I saved up the money and then I thought this is a lot of money to spend for something you don’t already appreciate and no guarantee that you ever will, so I ordered me a pair of swans instead.”

5. She also casts some spectacular shade on the eventual adaptation, which starred a “a tap-dancer by the name of Gene Kelly,” emphasis O’Connor’s.

6. In 1962, O’Connor was paid $300 for the 1956 O. Henry Prize, which she won for her short story “Greenleaf.”

Brooke Hatfield is a writer, artist, and brine enthusiast who helped imagineer the Flannery O’Connor Portrait Zine and the Eudora Welty Portrait Reader. Her work has been featured in Southern Living, the Southern Foodways Alliance’s Gravy Quarterly, Washingtonian, Atlanta Magazine, the Bitter Southerner, Southern Spaces, and Creative Loafing Atlanta.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Of Birds and Dreams and Flannery O'Connor

We are fortunate to excerpt a passage on O'Connor and Andalusia from Michael Tobias's forthcoming book, Embracing Co-Existence in the Anthropocene, coauthored by Tobias and Jane Gray Morrison and published by Springer Science/Business Publishers of New York. The volume will be available in 2017.

Like Emily Dickinson, who referred to birds 222 times in her poetry1, William Butler Yeats and D. H. Lawrence each immortalized a peacock in their writing, while Krishna Lal, far more recently, devoted a book to the Peacock In Indian Art, Thought and Literature (2006).2 The list of literary ornithological connections goes on in endless iterations, often obscure, but always revelatory. In 2002, at the International Conference on “The Chicken: Its Biological, Social, Cultural, and Industrial History,” convened at Yale University, Karen David, Ph.D., presented her paper, “The Dignity, Beauty, and Abuse of Chickens: As Symbols and in Reality.”3 Like the great dream many of us have harbored of those legendary plains of Cervantes’ La Mancha in Spain where his Don Quixote tilted at windmills, Spain has also engendered other dreams of Andalusia – mountainous, agricultural, abutting the Mediterranean and alive with tango and a vast cultural history. But the other Andalusia, Flannery O’Connor’s family farm in Milledgeville Georgia, where Ms. O’Connor spent more than half of her evanescent life, invites a very different dream, and one that is certainly no wishful thinking: namely, the importance to the artistic spirit in humanity, of birds.

It is a matter of record that Ms. O’Connor surrounded herself with birds, from her childhood in Savannah, continuing that passion at Andalusia where, prior to my own first visit less than two years ago, I had viewed the famed British Path√© News footage with its wonderful fleeting scene of the 5-year old child, O’Connor with two chickens in her arms. “Do You Reverse?”(1932)4 with its vaudeville music track and opening script, “Here’s an odd fowl, that walks backward to go forward so she can look behind to see where she went!” Little wonder that the British news gatherer’s very logo was that of a proud hollering rooster.

I can only imagine the ephemeral joy this piece of footage must have brought all those millions of people suffering during the Great Depression (and about to be plunged in to World War II) who would have likely viewed with a smile the young O’Connor and her cochin Bantam, which adds an uplifting loft to O’Connor’s own oft-cited admission that “I was just there to assist the chicken but it was the high point in my life. Everything since has been an anticlimax."5

After reading Margaret Eby’s “Flannery O’Connor and Her Peacocks”6 it was just a matter of time before I could track down an original copy of O’Connor’s astonishing September 1961 essay “Living With A Peacock” (later re-named “King of the Birds”) in Holiday Magazine7 in which the author describes how that “Path√© man” had managed to stir in her “a passion, a quest. I had to have more and more chickens.”

This astonishing piece of writing is assuredly comparable in many respects, I feel, to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s obituary in The Atlantic Monthly of Henry David Thoreau, published almost precisely 99 years earlier. Both essays8, Emerson’s and O’Connor’s, are among the greatest non-fiction essays on nature written in American history. O’Connor turns her attention to peacocks with that remarkable statement, “Many people, I have found, are con­genitally unable to appreciate the sight of a peacock. Once or twice I have been asked what the peacock is ‘good for’ - a question which gets no answer from me because it deserves none.”9 Near the end of her astonishing Holiday Magazine essay, O’Connor writes, “Lately I have had a recurrent dream: I am five years old and a peacock.” And she subsequently concludes, “I intend to stand firm and let the peacocks multiply, for I am sure that, in the end, the last word will be theirs.”10

As a writer, but also an ecologist, O’Connor’s love of chickens and peacocks add significant weight to the infectious constellation of data I trundle around with when it comes to America’s very different kind of love affair with chickens, and the world’s – with peacocks. The USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) “Poultry – Production and Value 2014 Summary, published April 201511 reveals that 104,519,000 chickens were slaughtered in the US in 2014 and this number does not account for the total of approximately 9 billion so called “broiler” chickens slaughtered each year, just in the United States, and an estimated 50 billion worldwide.12

And yes, if you browse the Internet you will also find sites suggestive of the fact that peacocks are also eaten at the dinner table, around the world and in the U.S. One would be ill-advised to even mention such a heresy in India, where the peacock (Pavo cristatus) is the national bird, protected under Section 51 (1-A) of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. The bird’s fat and feathers are believed by some within India to cure arthritis but the Government certainly doesn’t buy that and those caught harming the peacock risk six years imprisonment and a 25,000 rupee fine. Peafowl in India are still considered of “Least Concern” under IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) criteria.13 But the closely related Green Peafowl is “Endangered”; and the Congo Peafowl is listed as “Vulnerable,” as a result of hunting and habitat fragmentation pressures.14

Such data altogether underscores the very brutal truths on so many levels that O’Connor herself mastered in her unique craft and manner of deeply troubling, ironic storytelling.

I had the good fortune to hasten to Andalusia in time to meet Manley Pointer prior to his death one bitterly cold January, and also to read the astonishing 2015 obituary by Kay Powell15 which reminded me of an obituary in Wellington in 1939 of a national celebrity, the wild Airedale terrier, Paddy, who wandered the docks of New Zealand’s capital, keeping company with all of his buddies, the adoring longshoremen and, after his death, the whole nation of New Zealand, that was in mourning for the beloved canine.16 As Kay Powell describes Manley Pointer’s funeral, “News of his death drew 8,000 views on social media. A coterie of young mourners met through social media, dressed in black, and attended the sunset funeral at Andalusia Farm.”17

We know that more than a few peacocks ended up being embalmed in pyramids with Pharaohs. They were worshipped and venerated and painted throughout Ancient Egypt, Syria and the Roman Empire.

When the last Passenger Pigeon, Martha, died in 1914 at the Cincinnati Zoo, she, too was the subject of a funeral, and national news, as well as a sobering centennial documentary. While Audubon painted birds in all their glory, he typically employed dead specimens. No one other than Ms. Flannery O’Connor has ever described a bird – one of her own beloved peacocks –quite like “That rascal [who] could outrun a bus.”18 In my mind, Flannery O'Connor is something of a national environmental hero.

Most recently (late February 2016) I noticed Manley Pointer II enjoying the onslaught of an extremely balmy early Summer, as I would describe it, coming from California, out at lovely, expansive, thought-provoking Andalusia.



1- A Spicing of Birds: Poems by Emily Dickinson, by Emily Dickinson, Jo Miles Schuman and Joanna Bailey Hodgman, Editors, Wesleyan University Press, Middletown CT, 2010.

2 - Abhinav Publications, New Delhi, India 2006.

3 -

4 -

5 - O'Connor, Flannery; Rosemary M. Magee (1987). Conversations with Flannery O'Connor. p. 38. ISBN 0-87805-265-8.

6 –Eby,

7 –

8 –“Thoreau,” Ralph Waldo Emerson,

9 – op.cit., O’Connor, “Living With A Peacock” (“King of the Birds”)

10– ibid., O’Connor

11-, ISSN 1949-1573, p.11.

12-See the following 5 websites:;;;;

13 -

14 -

15 -“A Death Among Flannery’s Peacocks,” by Kay Powell, Photos by John Ward II”:

16 -

17 – op.cit., Powell.

18 – ibid., Powell.

Dr. Michael Charles Tobias is the long-time President of the Dancing Star Foundation ( and the 2016 Martha Daniel Newell Visiting Scholar at Georgia College and State University.