Mary Flannery O’Connor was born in 1925 in Savannah, Georgia, the only child of Edward F. and Regina Cline O’Connor. The O’Connors lived at 207 East Charlton St. across Lafayette Square from the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, where the family attended Mass. In the spring of 1938, the family moved to Atlanta, where Edward O’Connor was employed as a Federal Housing Authority real estate appraiser. In 1940, the O’Connors moved to Milledgeville to live in the Cline family home on Greene Street. Mr. O’Connor died of lupus early in 1941, and Mrs. O’Connor and Flannery continued to live in the Milledgeville family home along with Flannery’s aunts. It is here where Flannery O’Connor would continue to live, with a bedroom on the second floor, while she attended Peabody High School and Georgia State College for Women (now Georgia College & State University).
When Flannery O’Connor left Milledgeville in 1945 to attend the State University of Iowa, she enrolled in the Writers Workshop conducted by Paul Engle. Her thesis there comprised a collection of short stories entitled “The Geranium,” which would contain the seed of her first novel. She received a Master of Fine Arts degree after two years but remained in Iowa for another year before going to the Yaddo Foundation’s artist colony near Saratoga Springs, New York. Afterwards she lived in New York City, where she was introduced to Robert and Sally Fitzgerald, with whom she lived for over a year in Ridgefield, Connecticut. During this time she was writing her first novel, Wise Blood.
In late 1950, Flannery O’Connor began to exhibit symptoms of the disease that had killed her father. She suffered from systemic lupus erythematosus, a chronic autoimmune disease that can damage any part of the body, including skin, joints, or internal organs. (Learn more about the disease from the Lupus Foundation of America.) O’Connor’s condition forced her to return to Milledgeville in 1951, but she continued working on revised drafts of the novel even while she was in the hospital. Instead of returning to the family home in town, she and her mother moved to the family farm, Andalusia, where she lived for 13 years until her death in 1964.
O’Connor certainly did not live a reclusive life after returning to Milledgeville, although her vocation and her illness imposed some restrictions. Accompanied by her mother, she made frequent visits into town for dining and social events, and attended religious services regularly at Sacred Heart Catholic Church.
She also traveled throughout the United States for various speaking engagements. Nevertheless, during her productive years as a writer, she spent most of her time at Andalusia. There she routinely wrote every morning until noon and spent her afternoons and evenings tending to her domestic birds or entertaining visitors. The setting of Andalusia, including the ever-present peafowl, figures prominently in her fiction. If it is true, as critics and scholars have noted, that Southern fiction is marked by the importance given to a sense of place, then a major force in shaping Flannery O’Connor’s work is landscape. Andalusia provided for her not only a place to live and write, but also a functional landscape in which to set her fiction.
While living at Andalusia, Flannery O’Connor completed Wise Blood, which was published in 1952. Then her highly acclaimed collection of short stories A Good Man Is Hard To Find was published in 1955. She also wrote another novel, The Violent Bear It Away, published in 1960. Her second collection of short stories, Everything That Rises Must Converge, was published posthumously in 1965. A collection of nonfiction prose titled Mystery and Manners, edited by Robert and Sally Fitzgerald, was published in 1969. The Complete Stories, edited by Robert Giroux, won the 1971 National Book Award for Fiction. Then Sally Fitzgerald edited a large collection of O’Connor’s letters, The Habit of Being, which received the National Book Critics Circle Award after its publication in 1979. O’Connor’s Collected Works was published in 1988 as part of the Library of America series, the definitive collection of America’s greatest writers.