The authors featured in our exhibit American Voices represent the evolution and flourishing of American writing. Writers of the 1600s and 1700s borrowed forms and themes from Europe, applying them to New World settings and issues. Then, over the course of the 1800s, a new, democratic style emerged, rooted in the way Americans talked and thought. Previously underrepresented voices began to be heard, culminating with an explosion of perspectives in the modern era. Taken together, this rich literary heritage reflects America in all of its complexity: its energy, hope, conflict, disillusionment, and creativity.
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
Although shy, Flannery O’Connor was nonetheless ambitious. Once she determined fiction, not journalism, was her métier, she decided to attend the now world-famous Iowa Writers’ Workshop. From then on, she wrote prodigiously. Even as she struggled with lupus—the disease that killer her father and would cause her own death at 39—she remained prolific. She routinely wrote every morning until noon, and spent her afternoons and evenings tending to her domestic birds or entertaining visitors.
Informed by the community surrounding her Georgia hometown and her Catholic faith, O’Connor’s short fiction is rich with complex antiheroes and ironic moral turns. “I write,” she said, “because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
Of O’Connor, Natasha Trethewey, former U.S. Poet Laureate once said, “I carried her collected stories with me when I went off to graduate school, and I learned a great deal from the precision of her stories—her clear-eyed look at the world around her, her unflinching investigation of human nature.”
O’Connor’s best known story is “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” (1953). A grandmother, innocent of any law-breaking but not actually innocent at all—she romanticizes slavery, she lies, and she eagerly offers her family’s life in exchange for her own—meets The Misfit, an escaped murderer who understands grace.
“‘She would of been a good woman,’ The Misfit said, ‘if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.'” This line epitomizes O’Connor’s insight and dark wit.