"The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it"
- Mary Flannery O'Connor, in a letter written September 6, 1955
Mary Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964) was an American novelist and short-story writer; and the first fiction writer born in the twentieth century to have her works collected and published by the Library of America.
An only child, her father died of lupus when she was 15, which was a devasting loss for the self-described "pigeon-toed child with a receding chin and a you-leave-me-alone-or-I'll-bite-you complex."
Long before her first story was published, Mary achieved passing fame by teaching a chicken to walk backwards - a feat that was filmed by Pathé News and shown around the USA. She once said, perhaps somewhat tongue in cheek, "When I was six I had a chicken that walked backward and was in the Pathé News. I was in it too with the chicken. I was just there to assist the chicken but it was the high point in my life. Everything since has been anticlimax."
After graduating from Georgia State College for Women, she attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop. In 1951, at just 26 years of age, she was diagnosed with lupus and returned from Connecticut to her family's farm in Geogia where her mother still lived. During the following fifteen years, up until her death at 39 years old, she wrote her two novels Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away; and most of the stories that are collected in A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Everything That Rises Must Converge.
A devout Catholic, she collected books on Catholic theology and, despite her failing health, sometimes gave lectures on faith and literature. She also raised all sorts of birds including peafowl (more commonly known by the male bird's designation, peacocks); and corresponded widely with a number of people. One frequent correspondent was her best friend, Betty Hester, who received a weekly letter from O'Connor for more than a decade. Some of this correspondence is collected in The Habit of Being. The complete collection of unedited letters between O'Connor and Hester was given to Emory University in 1987 under the stipulation that they not be made publicly available for twenty years - they were unveiled by the university in 2007.
In her memory:
The Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, awarded by the University of Georgia Press, is given annually to an outstanding collection of short stories.