Published: Nov 16, 2011 02:00 AM
Modified: Nov 15, 2011 09:10 PM
Trip to explore O'Connor's life
The early morning dark carried a feeling of uncertainty as I boarded the bus, but any doubts were quickly dispelled by familiar faces. We were headed to two destinations in Georgia on a voyage of further discovery of author Flannery O'Connor.Most of us had completed a class led by instructor Arthur Clark in the Encore Program for Lifelong Enrichment at N.C. State University, where we had read and discussed her work. We were steeped in her literature, and now the Encore Program was taking us to O'Connor's places of refuge and reflection.In the afternoon of the first day, we pulled into the enchanting city of Savannah and soon were walking toward Flannery's birthplace home on Lafayette Square.Then it was on across the square to the dazzling sight of St. John the Baptist Cathedral, which had been a strong stimulus for young Mary Flannery. O'Connor was part of a robust Irish-American Roman Catholic family in places where they were a substantial minority. It was clear how this ancestry and these places heavily influenced her stories, stories that illuminate the divine in everyday people.Before she died at 39 from systemic lupus erythematosus, tenacious Flannery had written more than 30 short stories, two short novels and hundreds of letters.The next day of our trip took us to Milledgeville. Seeing these places - where Flannery lived with her mother after her father died, attended college, worked, and eventually succumbed to lupus - drew me close to her, wishing that she was still with us and feeling ever grateful that she had been.The manual typewriter and desk where she produced her many pages hold the place of honor in a room dedicated to her at Georgia College & State University (then named Georgia College for Women).My favorite highlight of the trip was a restored 1950s video recording of a television interview with Flannery. As the black and white tape rolled in a library at GCSU, I felt exhilaration that this was someone I had gotten to know well. Seeing her and hearing her voice as it delivered words of strength and intellect, I found my face wet with tears.
Phoebe Johnston is a Morrisville resident who has cultivated a love of literature all her life.