Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Magical Mystery and Manners Tour

I took a long sabbatical from Paw Paw Bill last year to write a more or less serious article of conventional magazine length about Flannery O’Connor. Nobody gave me this assignment but myself. I thought it would be an interesting experience, a good excuse to travel to Flannery O’Connor landmarks, re-read old favorites, learn some new things. SHENANDOAH, the prestigious literary review of Virginia’s Washington and Lee University, announced plans to devote its 60th anniversary edition entirely to Flannery O’Connor and invited submissions of “essays, poems, short stories, reviews, photographs and other artwork about, related to or in honor of the fiction and life of Ms. O’Connor. “ Well, that was enough encouragement for me and 499 other writers. All the fun in writing is in the writing, none in the publishing. As the deadline closed in on me, I stumbled across the finish line, but at least I had not just pulled up along the way and barfed on the side of the road.

SHENANDOAH has now announced its leadoff batter for the Flannery O’Connor tribute: Georgia State University emeritus professor William Sessions, with Joyce Carol Oates in the clean-up spot. Paw Paw Bill did not make the team. The distinguished editor and short story writer R. T. Smith, wrote, “Although your poem, story, essay or memoir has not been selected for inclusion….” Click here to see for yourself which of those I submitted. You will probably be able to tell that it was not a poem. I tried twice to interview William Sessions, long-time friend of Flannery O’Connor and official biographer, work much anticipated and sure to be extremely important. My requests, both in writing and face-to-face, were gracefully dodged. Perhaps Dr. Sessions knew my high school girlfriend’s mother, who claimed, “nobody will buy the cow, if they can get the milk for free.”

If I had it to do over again, I would pick a different focus. I am currently interested in the aspect of Flannery O’Connor’s work that caused the Catholic Bishop of Lafayette, Louisiana, to ban “the racist texts of Flannery O'Connor" from the schools in his diocese. An English teacher at Opelousas Catholic, which serves parishes in the Catholic Cajun country of southern Louisiana, included on the summer reading list for high-school seniors "The Artificial Nigger," Flannery O’Connor’ favorite story of her own. My favorite, too. The Bishop directed “that the books in question should be removed from the reading list immediately." I fear and tremble for Flannery O’Connor’s literary future because of her incisive depiction of the South in which she lived. I fear and tremble for Mark Twain’s greatest achievement, Huck Finn’s musings about the runaway slave Jim. A literary sentiment not shared by African-Americans, I am told: “They don't want to "valorize" Nigger Jim. They want to forget him.” Hal Crowther offers this point in Cathedrals of Kudzu, and it has the ring of inconvenient, disturbing truth.

1 comment:

Tina said...

I took at least one course in my unfinished doctoral program from Bill Sessions....a nice man.


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