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Miss O'Connor Turns 85

Of pens and peafowl on a big day in Milledgeville

2:12 PM, Mar 25, 2010 • By KATHERINE EASTLAND
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Today marks the 85th birthday of the novelist and peafowl-enthusiast Flannery O’Connor. To properly celebrate the occasion, the mayor of Milledgeville, Georgia, along with others of the town’s dignitaries just proclaimed March 25th “Flannery O’Connor Day.” (A few decades ago, however, when O'Connor was still living, her books and short-stories shocked and startled so many of the town’s good country people that O’Connor enthusiasts would share her books discreetly in brown paper bags.)

Miss O'Connor Turns 85

Flannery and two friends

Many make the literary pilgrimage to O'Connor’s Andalusian estate. But those visiting her red-roofed house today will get a slice of peacock birthday cake. Ever since she was a child, O'Connor had a certain liking for birds of all types, even the comely chicken. At age six, she taught one how to walk backwards, and her first drawing was of herself, flying, with a chicken on the ground. Later on in life, she painted this self-portrait with a peacock. It still adorns a room in her Andalusia farm house.

Just this year the good fellows maintaining her house have reintroduced peafowl to the estate. There are two peahens and one peacock. (By Easter, they shall be in full plumage.) Until April 4, you can submit potential names for these three birds. The only rule is that the names must be those of O’Connor’s characters. So, while looking over some of her excellent letters and stories, keep watch for particularly terrific names, and email the folks at Andalusia with your ideas.

Now, to whet your literary appetite, here’s a bit from a letter she wrote about the relationship between the author and fiction writing:

Now I understand that something of oneself gets through and often something that one is not conscious of. Also to have sympathy for any character, you have to put a good deal of yourself in him. But to say that any complete denudation of the writer occurs in the successful work is, according to me, a romantic exaggeration. A great part of the art of it is precisely in seeing that this does not happen. [Jacques] Maritain says that to produce a work of art requires the "constant attention of the purified mind," and the business of the purified mind in this case is to see that those elements of the personality that don't bear on the subject at hand are excluded. Stories don't lie when left to themselves. Everything has to subordinated to a whole which is not you.

In case you missed it, a seminal biography of Flannery O'Connor came out last year. Check out the review by Shawn Macomber that ran in our pages here.

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