Flannery O'Connor did not even live to see her 40th birthday; she died, in 1964, of lupus, the same inflammatory disease which had killed her father when she was a mere teenager and which all too soon began to cripple her as well. A graduate of the Iowa State University's journalism and writing program, she had started to write her first stories, poems and other pieces when she was still in high school, and had submitted a collection of six short stories entitled "The Geranium" as her master's thesis in university. (Most of the stories contained in that collection were published individually in various magazines and anthologies around the time of their inclusion in the thesis; the collection as a whole, however, was first published only posthumously in the National Book Award winning "Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor.") Only a few years after having obtained her master's degree, and after a prolonged residence at Yaddo artists' colony in upstate New York, O'Connor began to spend time in hospitals and, in due course, was diagnosed with lupus. From that moment on, she focused on her writing even more than she had before – and the result were two novels, two short story collections, several stand-alone short stories, essays and other pieces of occasional prose, as well as a barrage of letters. The majority of that work product, including twenty-one previously unpublished letters, is reproduced in this collection published in the Library of America series; notably, the fiction part also includes, as one piece, O'Connor's master's thesis, "The Geranium: A Collection of Short Stories."
A native of Georgia, Flannery O'Connor defined herself as much as a Catholic writer as a Southerner; and she commented on the impact that regional influences on the one hand and her religion on the other hand had had on her writing in the 1963 essays "The Catholic Novelist in the Protestant South" and "The Regional Writer." Yet, while religion (and more specifically, Catholicism) certainly plays a big part in her writing, from the "Christian malgré lui," as she herself characterized the hero of her first novel "Wise Blood" in the Author's Note to book's 1962 second edition, to the "odd folks out" and searching souls populating her short stories, and to her frequent biblical references, it would not do her writing justice to limit her to that realm, nor to that of "Southern" fiction. (No matter for which specific dramatic purpose a writer employed a Southern setting, he would still be considered to be writing about the South in general, and was thus left to get rid off the label of a "Southern writer ... and all the misconceptions that go with it" as best he could, she quipped in her 1960 essay "Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction." Rather, she added three years later in "The Regional Writer," location matters to an author insofar as any author "operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet," and it is up to him to find that precise spot and apply it to his writing.)
"In yourself right now is all the place you've got."
"Mrs. Hopewell had no bad qualities of her own but she was able to use other people's in such a constructive way that she never felt the lack."
The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it."
"I do not like the raw sound of the human voice in unison unless it is under the discipline of music."
"Our age not only does not have a very sharp eye for the almost imperceptible intrusions of grace, it no longer has much feeling for the nature of the violences which precede and follow them."
"Anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic."
"Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days."
(Rosemary M. Magee, ed., 1987)
"Everywhere I go I'm asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them. There's many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher."