Eatonton: Flannery O’Connor and the Georgia Writers Museum

Flannery O’Connor

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

 

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Decatur: Connie McKee and Tall Tales Books

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Connie McKee

“Then, with your fingers poised on the keyboard, you squint at an image that is forming in your mind — a scene, a locale, a character, whatever — and you try to quiet your mind so you can hear what that landscape or character has to say above the other voices in your mind.”
― Anne Lamott  in Bird by Bird

When Connie McKee turned to writing, she took Anne’s message to heart and approached character description “head on” while drawing on her own lifetime of studying people. As a former psychiatrist, what always mattered to Connie most were behaviors, moods, and perceptions, not how tall or short people were or whether they were brunette or blonde. She wanted to understand first what was inside someone’s head. Only after that would she give them skin and bones and clothe them in their world.

With forensic psychiatry – the intersection of psychiatry and law – as her specialty, the natural thing would have been for Connie to write a crime novel with a serial killer or crazed woman at its center. But she didn’t, at least not yet.  Instead, she wrote of near a death experience, parallel universes, and alternate realities–things that bend the mind. Who, other than someone schooled in divinity, is better able to speculate on these topics than a psychiatrist?

The Girl in the Mirror earned Connie the 2016 Georgia Author of the Year Award. And, yes, the story involves a dream. “Of course,” you might scoff, “what else would the stereotypical shrink do but force you to talk about your dreams and then ask you what you think they mean?” Jodi, the protagonist on Connie’s book is a psychiatrist too with dreams of her own and a particular dream that mirrors, no pun intended, Connie’s own life experience. And, in the story, Jodi is forced to confront her dream or what may not have been a dream at all. That’s where the real world, the science part, ends and–I think–the fiction begins. Or is it the other way around? Another mind bending question for the reader.

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After winning the award for her book in the science fiction category, Connie explained she considers the work not so much science fiction as a blend of science and fiction. And maybe that is the best explanation of what transpires.

On a personal note, Connie is a soft spoken and self effacing person. She listens more than she talks, that’s expected of a psychiatrist and makes for a good writer even if while speaking with her you might fear she’s making notes for her next character from what’s inside your head.

While not running road races, traveling, or writing, Connie appears around town as one of The Book Widows, a group of four local authors who speak about how men and women read differently and why. While the others talk about the what and how and how many, Connie’s contribution to the group is definitely the why. She gives a lot of thought to the topic and dives below the surface–and maybe into the mirror–for new insights each time.

Read more about Connie at: www.constancemckee.com


Tall Tales Books

tall tales shop

Tall Tales has been in Atlanta for almost forty years, and though construction surrounds the Toco Hill Shopping Center, if you get lost, just stop and ask. Everyone in the neighborhood knows just where the book store is.

It’s a busy place, bookended with a Pike Nursery on one side and a Kroger Supermarket on the other. But step inside and it’s as if you’ve stepped into your living room, albeit one with floor to ceiling bookshelves. It’s cozy and quiet with just the right amount of like-minded guests–book lovers all.  On the day I visited, the Saturday before Easter, moms and dads led small children by the hand to one aisle full of pink and blue and yellow children’s books and left with arms full of books.  Never mind that I was there with two other mystery and suspense writers for a signing, we had an audience too–one loyal Tall Tales customer balanced a stack of her favorite mystery writers in one hand and then piled on a copy of each of our books.

And if you ever need a suggestion for what to read next, Rebekah and her staff are knowledgeable and eager to help–they claim to have majored in book recommendations in college. Plus, you can stop in for one of the store’s many book signings events featuring a variety of genres. You won’t leave empty handed!

Tall Tales is located at 2105 Lavista Road, Atlanta, Georgia 30329. And, for more about Tall Tales, visit the store’s website at: www.talltalesatlanta.com