Though her total literary output consists of just two novels and several dozen short stories, the writer Flannery O'Connor is one of the most compelling figures in American literature. O'Connor was born in 1925 in Savannah, Georgia, and died 39 years later in nearby Milledgeville. Her entire collected works fit into just a single volume. She almost defined the genre known as Southern Gothic, a style rooted firmly in the American South that emphasizes the grotesque, the horrifying, and the-just-plain-wrong. In the Southern Gothic tradition, it's impossible to look away from life's horrors. "She has certainly an uncanny talent of a high order but my nerves are just not strong enough to take much of a disturbance,"1 the poet T.S. Eliot said of her work.
It's curious, in some ways, the lasting power of Flannery O'Connor. A debilitating illness kept her confined to a farm in rural Georgia for the last third of her life. She died before reaching even the age of 40, just one year after Esquire magazine listed her in the "red hot center" of the new literary elite.2 Maybe it's because she was with us for such a short time that Flannery O'Connor still demands our attention. "There won't be any biographies of me because, for only one reason, lives spent between the house and the chicken yard do not make exciting copy,"3 O'Connor said. That's one of the only things she ever wrote that didn't ring true.