Tuesday, July 16, 2013


Dr. Mary Ann Wilson
A few months ago, I visited Andalusia, home of Flannery O’Connor, one of the foremost writers in the South. I came home with a thick volume of her work, including some of her “Occasional Prose” and wrote a blog about my visit to this peaceful property in Milledgeville, Georgia where O’Connor once lived and wrote. Since that time, I’ve had an abiding interest in her work and am sorry I missed a lecture last week entitled “Surprising Grace in the Writing of Flannery O’Connor” given by Rt. Reverend Henry Parsley, the retired 10th Bishop of Alabama and a former Chancellor of the University of the South. The lecture was sponsored by the Academy for Lifelong Learning which meets each month at St. Mary’s Conference Center here at Sewanee, Tennessee.
This week, on the heels of this lecture I received an e-mail from my good friend, Dr. Mary Ann Wilson, an English professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, telling me about her latest connection to Flannery O’Connor’s work. Dr. Wilson was featured in a recent issue of La Louisiane, the magazine of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, in which she was cited for discovering a 50-year old tape of an O’Connor lecture. The tape is a valuable recording of a talk O’Connor presented at Our Lady of Wisdom Catholic Church on the ULL campus just two years before she died of lupus during the 50’s.
Dr. Wilson was cleaning out her office files at the University when she came across a pink box with O’Connor’s tape entitled “The Catholic Writer in the Protestant South” (of which I have a print copy). She took the brittle tape to the University’s Center for Louisiana Studies and they used digitizing equipment to produce a 35-minute recording. The recording inspired Dr. Wilson to organize and coordinate a symposium that featured O’Connor scholars from throughout the U.S., and the audience heard parts of the recording during the sessions. The symposium was hosted by Our Lady of Wisdom’s Jeanmard Center in November, 2012.
Dr. Wilson reports that the tape captured the soft, South Georgia drawl of Flannery O’Connor, and applause and laughter punctuated the lecture O’Connor presented. Wilson teaches courses in Southern literature, many of them centered on Southern women writers, including O'Connor, this distinctive American writer of the twentieth century. She says that a colleague gave the O’Connor reel-to-reel tape to her years ago, and she forgot about it until she did a spring cleaning in her office.
After my visit to Andalusia in May, I read the particular essay which formed the basis for O’Connor’s lecture at ULL, “The Catholic Novelist in the South,” and re-read it after I received the article about Dr. Wilson. In the talk, O’Connor advocated that Catholic novelists in the future would be able to reinforce the vital strength of Southern literature, “for they will know that what has given the South her identity are those beliefs and qualities which she has absorbed from the Scriptures and from her own history of defeat and violation, a distrust of the abstract, a sense of human dependence on the grace of God, and a knowledge that evil is not simply a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be endured…”
O’Connor was a master at probing the mysteries of divine grace, and as a priest friend of mine said the other day at the breakfast table in St. Mary’s Convent, “We seem to find grace in everything she wrote, despite the depiction of characters who are driven to violence and their sometimes bizarre behavior…”

O’Connor scholars in the South are indebted to Dr. Wilson for rescuing this tape and getting it digitized for a permanent collection in the Edith Garland Dupre Library at ULL. The article about Dr. Wilson’s discovery appears in Volume 23, Number 1 of La Louisiane, a publication published twice a year at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. 

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