Today in NC State History: Flannery gets ‘freaky’ on campus

April 12, 2014
By Chris Saunders

historyIconFew writers are as celebrated for cutting to the core of writing about the South as Flannery O’Connor. The novels and short story collections she released throughout the 1950s and ’60s, like Wise Blood and A Good Man Is Hard to Find, are hailed as masterpieces for their narratives decorated with Southern Gothic gold and are pretty much required reading in any college introductory literature course.

And on this day in 1962, O’Connor brought her weird Southern world to campus, delivering a lecture on the famed trait she assigned many of her protagonists — “the grotesque.” She appeared as a part of the Contemporary Scene Series.

O'Connorvisit2The Savannah, Ga., native used grotesque trait to underscore how certain characters didn’t fit into the settings about which she wrote. “The grotesque in Southern Literature,” she told the College Union crowd, “stems from the fact that the Southerner is still able to recognize freaks.”

An article in The Technician reported that O’Connor went on to link the South’s recognition of freaks with the region’s emphasis on religion. “Where there is theological thought, she stated, there is more motivation to describe a situation than explain it,” the newspaper reported.

But whereas many of her characters’ grotesqueness prevented them from accepting certain truths about themselves and alienated them from the rest of society in her stories, O’Connor held steadfast to the notion that American literature needed more of them.

“She also expressed the worry,” The Technician reported, “that in twenty years the South will stop having its grotesque characters and will be filled with men in grey flannel suits.”

O’Connor died two years later as a result of complications from lupus.

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