Despite my degree in economics (even at twenty you have to start think about making a living), a course in southern literature was one of the most memorable of all my college courses. In that long ago semester of 1970, we read and dissected William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Shirley Ann Grau, Sidney Lanier, and Katherine Ann Porter and lost ourselves in moss-draped oaks and along limitless marshes and seashores. Perhaps the reason the topic resonated was my college was situated in the heart of the deep south (New Orleans, with its own special brand of “southern”), or that my professors lectured with authentic southern accents, or that the stories touched readers souls.
I recall laboring through Faulkner’s prose with my fellow students and with a Faulkner Reader by my side—a rewarding exercise that brought the dialogue to life and illuminated the scene, while explaining the masterfully veiled meanings.
“Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting. They were coming toward where the flag was and I went along the fence. Luster was hunting in the grass by the flower tree. They took the flag out, and they were hitting. Then they put the flag back and they went to the table, and he hit and the other hit. Then they went on, and I went along the fence.”
So starts Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury.”
Katherine Anne Porter made us look in the mirror and confront our mortality in “Pale Horse, Pale Rider”, as she did the young girls in the opening of “Old Mortality.”
“Maria and Miranda, aged twelve and eight years, knew they were young, though they felt they had lived a long time. They had lived not only their own years; but their memories, it seemed to them, began years before they were born, in the lives of the grownups around them, who had a way of insisting that they too had been young once. It was hard to believe.”
But there was something about Flannery, though she might prefer to be called Miss O’Connor as we haven’t been introduced, that persists. I believe it’s her characters. They are people we’ve met, passed by, or lived with. We know them well.
From the grandmother in “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” wearing her white gloves, navy blue straw sailor hat with “a bunch of white violets on the brim and a navy blue dress with a small white dot in the print … In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady.”
To the small-town busy bodies and do-gooders like the Baptist ladies at the post office, Mrs. Watts, Mrs. Carson, and Aimee Slocum in “Lily Daw and the Three Ladies.” Mrs. Watts with their pink hands, thimbled-finger, and wearing widow’s black and Mrs. Carson who has a tape measure hung over her bosom. They are a whirlwind lost in a cause that sucks the reader in over the scant few pages it takes to tell the story.
Flannery managed to fill her short writing life (from the age of twenty-one until she died at thirty-nine) with a collection of some of the finest short stories ever written—by writers from the South, the North or anywhere else in the world.
Read one. Read two. Read a handful. And enjoy the trip back in time with stories that could be told today, but no more skillfully than in Flannery’s hands.
Born in Savannah, Flannery spent most of her time and writing life in Milledgeville, Georgia where it’s easy to find traces of her life..
Georgia Writers Museum (and Book Store), Eatonton, Georgia
This month, I’ve taken a slight departure on the traditional book store to include a museum—the Georgia Writers Museum in Eatonton (Putnam County), Georgia, which also carries and sells books by local authors.
The museum hosts permanent exhibits to honor three of the state’s most famous authors (Alice Walker, Joel Chandler Harris, and Flannery O’Connor) who lived and worked in the area. Further, of the forty-six authors in the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame, nine hail from within thirty miles of Putnam County, and their works and artifacts are exhibited on a rotational basis at the museum.
But the Georgia Writers Museum is much more than a museum and today acts as a center for the literary art in the Georgia’s heartland. Rather than rest on its laurels and those of its featured authors, the museum is evolving to create “a modern day experience using leading edge virtual and augmented reality and 3D technology”—setting the bar for the next generation of Georgia authors.
To learn more or contribute to the Georgia Writers Museum’s outreach efforts, visit the Museum at 109 S. Jefferson St. in Eatonton or go to the website: georgiawritersmuseum.com