Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Bloggers Beware

A word to the wise for us bloggers from the creators of the Pearls Before Swine comic strip...

I'm off to Kansas for a short vacation.  Be back to blogging next week.
- Mark

Friday, July 27, 2012

Olympic Gold

With the opening of the Olympics tonight in London, some might wonder if Flannery O'Connor had any interest in sports or competed in athletics.  Other than riding horses at her uncle Bernard's farm when she was a child, there is no evidence to suggest that Flannery ever participated in sports.  Indeed, the onset of lupus in 1950 ruled out her taking part in athletics altogether. While she may have been physically unable to engage in sports, she was a sports fan.  Her favorite sport was boxing and the boxer she most admired was Cassius Clay, who won the gold medal in the light heavyweight division at the 1960 Olympics in Rome.  Given the cultural climate in middle Georgia at the time, declaring one's allegiance for the brash young boxer from Louisville was scandalous to say the least.  Nevertheless, O'Connor had deep admiration for Clay whose public statements could be as controversial as some of the things Flannery herself said in print.  She admired Clay not only for his athletic prowess, but also that he had deeply held convictions that he was willing to stand up for, even if O'Connor did not always share his views.  Two years after Flannery died, Clay denounced the war in Vietnam and refused to submit to the draft because he believed US involvement in southeast Asia was unjust.  His religious convictions were equally as strong.  When Clay converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali, he created quite a stir that even took Flannery by surprise.  In a politically incorrect letter to her friend Maryat Lee on May 21, 1964 she demurred "...Cassius is too good for the Moslems." (The Habit of Being, p. 580).
- Mark

Friday, July 20, 2012

Teachers on Tour

Among the visitors to Andalusia during the summer are a good many high school and college English teachers who are using their vacations to see the homes of some of their favorite writers. Often times Andalusia is just the first stop on a literary pilgrimage to Walden Pond, Dickinson's Amherst, or the homes of Emerson and Hawthorne in Concord.  The majority of these teachers, however, are usually heading west to visit the homes of  southern writers like Faulkner, Welty, McCullers, et. al.  If, like these English teachers, you have a yen to tour the homes of your favorite southern authors, I would encourage you to check out the web site www.southernliterarytrail.org.  The Southern Literary Trail is a consortium of writers homes/museums in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. In addition to providing a ton of useful information for anyone desiring to visit these authors' homes, the SLT celebrates tri-state writers with the nation's only regional literary festival, Trailfest.  This event, which occurs every other year, includes tours, films, play performances, and panel discussion in 18 southern cities - many of which are free and feature prominent contemporary writers.  The next Trailfest will be in 2013.  For a complete schedule (not available yet) and more information visit SLT's website. 
- Mark

Friday, July 13, 2012

Another Cartoon Book!

Big news in the publishing world!  A second book of Flannery O'Connor's cartoons has just been released. Edited by Kelly Gerald, Flannery O'Connor: The Cartoons is creating quite a buzz on the internet.  Ms. Gerald holds B.S., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees in English as well as a second Master’s degree in philosophy and religion. Her previous publications include work on Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, and Cormac McCarthy. Kelly works as senior writer-editor and director of media relations for the Phi Beta Kappa Society in Washington, D.C. and part-time as an Associate Professor of English for University of Maryland University College. According to the Fantagraphics website:
Flannery O’Connor was among the greatest American writers of the 2nd half of the 20th century; she was a writer in the Southern tradition of Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, and Carson McCullers, who wrote such classic novels and short stories as Wise Blood, The Violent Bear It Away, and “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” She is perhaps as well known for her tantalizing brand of Southern Gothic humor as she is for her Catholicism. That these tendencies should be so happily married in her fiction is no longer a surprise. The real surprise is learning that this much beloved icon of American literature did not set out to be a fiction writer, but a cartoonist. This seems to be the last well-kept secret of her creative life.  Flannery O’Connor: The Cartoons, the first book devoted to the author’s work in the visual arts, emphasizes O’Connor’s most prolific period as a cartoonist, drawing for her high school and college publications in the early 1940s. While many of these images lampoon student life and the impact of World War II on the home front, something much more is happening. Her cartoons are a creative threshing floor for experimenting and trying out techniques that are deployed later with such great success in her fiction.  O’Connor learns how to set up and carry a joke visually, how to write a good one-liner and set it off against a background of complex visual narration. She develops and asserts her taste for a stock set of character types, attitudes, situations, exaggerations, and grotesques, and she learns how to present them not to distort the truth, but to expose her vision of it.
She worked in both pen & ink and linoleum cuts, and her rough-hewn technique combined with her acidic observations to form a visual precursor to her prose. Fantagraphics is honored to bring the early cartoons of this American literary treasure to a 21st century readership.
For an audience resistant to your views, O’Connor once wrote, “draw large and startling figures.” In her fiction, as in her cartoons, these shocks to the system never come without a laugh.

With all due respect to Fantagraphics, this is not the first book devoted to O'Connor's work in the visual arts.  That honor belongs to Georgia College, which last year published The Cartoons of Flannery O'Connor at Georgia College.  Also, I'm not sure how Flannery would feel about being characterized as a writer in "the tradition of Eudora Welty, William Faulkner [aka "the Dixie Limited"], and Carson McCullers.  Be that as it may, the Fantagraphics book includes some of O'Connor's art work from high school and, therefore, would make a worthy addition to any Flannery-o-phile's library.
- Mark

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Trappist and the Thomist

Occasionally visitors at Andalusia ask us about Thomas Merton and Flannery O'Connor.  Because they were contemporaries, a lot of folks assume that Merton and Flannery knew each other or, at the very least, corresponded with one another.  Unfortunately, neither is the case.  Though they were aware of one another, and each had read the other's work, they never met or exchanged letters.  They did, however, have the same editor at Harcourt Brace, Robert Giroux.  When Flannery was introduced to Giroux in 1949 she asked if he would give her a copy of Thomas Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain.  When this spiritual memoir, which tells the tale of the author's abandonment of the literary life of Manhattan to become a Trappist monk in Kentucky, came out the year before it was an immediate sensation. Many of the young men who read it were so inspired that the Abbey of Gethsemane, where Merton lived, was overrun with aspirants (to the point that tents were raised in the cloister to house them).  Eventually, the overcrowding became such a problem that the monastery needed to found a daughter house in rural Rockdale County, Georgia.  This, of course, became the The Monastery of the Holy Spirit, which I've written about elsewhere on this blog.  I don't know how Flannery felt about The Seven Storey Mountain.  My guess is that she had some reservations. In 1955 when her first collection of short stories came out, Giroux wrote her to inform her that the book was selling better than anything on their list except Thomas Merton.  Flannery confided to her friend Ben Griffith, "[it] doesn't say much for their list, I guess." (The Habit of Being, p. 89)  Yet O'Connor respected Merton and his opinion mattered to her.  When her second novel, The Violent Bear it Away, was published in 1960, she wrote to Giroux anxious to find out what Merton thought about it. (The Habit of Being, p. 380) While Flannery may have been measured in her assessment of the monk's writings (though by this time her library included a number of his books), Merton was characteristically effusive in his praise for the author from Milledgeville. After Flannery died, Merton wrote a much-quoted epitaph: "When I read Flannery O'Connor, I do not think of Hemingway, or Katherine Anne Porter, or Sartre, but rather of someone like Sophocles.  What more can you say for a writer?  I write her name with honor, for all the truth and all the craft with which she shows man's fall and his dishonor." (quoted in A Literary Guide to Flannery O'Connor's Georgia, p. 86).  Indeed, what more can you say for such a writer?
- Mark