1972 -- The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O’Connor’s NBA came eight years after her death. The acceptance speech for her award was given by Robert Giroux, O’Connor’s editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux. In the outspoken spirit of his author, and amid the political scandals of the Vietnamese War and, just recently, Watergate, Giroux couched his praise for O’Conner this way:

In an age of mendacity, duplicity and document-shredders, the clear vision of Flannery O’Connor not only burns brighter than ever but it burns through the masks of what she called “blind wills and low dodges of the heart.” She once said, “When I’m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it’s because we are still able to recognize one.”

Brad Gooch’s Flannery (2009), from which the above is taken, begins with O’Connor’s comment that there wouldn’t be any biographies of her because “lives spent between the house and the chicken yard do not make exciting copy.” But O’Connor was not the usual sort of hen-keeper, and Gooch dismisses her disclaimer in the opening paragraph of his Prologue, this titled “Walking Backward”:

When Flannery O’Connor was five years old, the Pathe newsreel company dispatched a cameraman from its main offices in New York City to the backyard of the O’Connor family home in Savannah, Georgia. The event, as O’Connor wryly confessed … almost three decades later, “marked me for life.” Yet the purpose of the visit from “the New Yorker,” as she labeled him, wasn’t entirely to film her … but rather to record her buff Cochin bantam, the chicken she reputedly taught to walk backward.

In the concluding paragraph of his book, Gooch says that O’Connor “had spent her life making her literary chickens walk backward. But she had also spent much of her adult writing life looking down the barrel of the Misfit’s shotgun.”

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