Flannery O’Connor only lived thirty-nine years and published a relatively small body of fiction. Though she penned only two novels and thirty-two short stories, she is considered one of America’s most influential fiction writers fifty years after her death.
Mary Flannery O’Connor was born in Savannah on March 25, 1925, to Regina Cline O’Connor and Edward Francis O’Connor, Jr. The O’Connor family settled at 207 Charlton Street just across Lafayette Square from the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist where Flannery was baptized and made her first communion. O’Connor was a devout Roman Catholic throughout her entire life, a fact that deeply influenced her writing.
In 1938, O’Connor moved to her mother’s hometown of Milledgeville and enrolled in Peabody High School, where she wrote and drew cartoons for the school newspaper. In 1941, at age fifteen, O’Connor lost her father to lupus erythematosus, the same disease that would later take her life. She attended Georgia State College for Women (now Georgia College & State University), where she served as editor for the school’s literary magazine, the Corinthian, and contributed cartoons for several campus publications.
O’Connor attended the State University of Iowa (now the University of Iowa) in 1945 on a journalism scholarship. Paul Engle, future head of the famous Iowa Writers’ Workshop accepted Flannery into the creative writing master’s program. The distinguished writers and lecturers she encountered in the program shaped and guided her literary career. After graduating, O’Connor spent time at the Yaddo artists’ colony in New York before moving into the Connecticut home of poet and translator Robert Fitzgerald and wife Sally Fitzgerald. The Fitzgeralds became lifelong friends and supporters of O’Connor’s work.
In 1947 O’Connor won the Rinehart-Iowa Fiction award for partial submission of her novel, Wise Blood. She would also go on to write a second novel, The Violent Bear it Away, and two collections of short stories – A Good Man is Hard to Find (1955) and Everything That Rises Must Converge, published posthumously in 1965.
O’Connor was diagnosed with lupus in 1951, and she battled the disease until her death in 1964. Despite her debilitating illness, she devoted much of her time to writing, lecturing, and corresponding with fellow authors while living on her family’s Milledgeville dairy farm Andalusia. O’Connor’s Complete Stories collection was awarded the National Book Award posthumously in 1972. O’Connor is a Georgia Women of Achievement Honoree (1992), charter member of the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame (2000), and the 2014 Georgia History Festival Featured Historical Figure.