Last Thursday, at the Towell Library, College of Charleston’s English Department and Crazyhorse magazine hosted an event celebrating Southern Gothic writer Flannery O’Connor and her influence over students, professors and writers.
Flannery O’Connor is best known for her hard-hitting, harrowing and grim depictions of Christian realism and violence. Combining flawed, grotesque characters, deep and dark southern settings and a mastery over the literary third person, O’Connor’s writing developed into a monumentally influential force for writers all across the country. O’Connor herself was born in Savannah, GA in 1925 and lived an unfortunately brief life before succumbing to lupus in 1964, at the age of 39. This is not, however, to say that her life wasn’t without merit or it’s own share of eccentricities found within her writing. She was amazed by birds and raised all sorts of local and exotic breeds, including her
beloved peacocks, on her infamous ancestral farm Andalusia, in Milledgeville, GA. Her writing was heavily praised and critically well-received, gathering her many awards and recognition, even having the national Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction named after her. O’Connor became the first writer born in the 20th Century to be inducted and published by the Library of America.
Southern Gothic is interesting as it’s one of the only genres unique to American literature. Emerging in the early 20th century, Southern Gothic speaks towards the decay and destitute of the American south paralleled against the disintegration of its culture, society and its people. Pulling from its literary origins, it uses the macabre and the strange to not only ascribe suspense and horror to the story, but also offer up poignant social commentary targeting the crippled post-antebellum south. O’Connor capitalized on this, pulling her own brand of wit and personal experiences together to form stories such as “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, “Good Country People” and Wiseblood. These stories are heralded as classics of American literature, issuing forth perfect concoctions of malformed, degenerate characters, dismal setting and startling realism.
The event, Inspired by O’Connor: A Celebration, combined music, art and poetry based around O’Connor’s writing as well as plenty of food and speeches given by English professors Brett Lott and Anthony Varallo. When asked about the importance of O’Connor to him, Lott said “she provides reason to chaos.” This can be seen throughout her writing. Stories seemingly flying off the rails into the bizarre are instead grounded upon the gritty foundations of the South, its faith and its people.
The music was provided by The Harrows, a bluesy folk duo writing music inspired by various Flannery O’Connor works. The two members, Bob Culver and Hazel Ketchum, played wonderful, original material such as “Good Man is Hard to Find” and “Circle of Fire” as well as gospel and blues cover songs. In between sets, a poem by CofC student Aaron Matthews entitled “Andalusia” was performed. Dripping with grotesque imagery and twisted interpretations of human and animal bodies alike, the poem captured the essence of O’Connor’s work and its disturbing realism.
Upstairs, the second floor of the Towell Libary consisted of the art gallery Southern Gothic in Color, by Lillian Trettin. Lillian’s art are sets of paper collages combined with vivid colors and eccentric charm. Pieces such as “Descent of the Holy Ghost” use these bright colors combined with the choppy, paper aesthetic to form abnormal, eccentric and humorous characterizations inspired by O’Connor’s work.
The combination of art, from musical to poetic, demonstrates the lengths in which O’Connor’s work spreads. It’s a joy seeing so many people celebrate their passions based around the work of such an inspiring author.
For more literary events, be sure to check out the poetry reading Friday, Oct. 10 by John Pineda and CofC student Davis Sawyer at the Charleston Library Society as well as Oct. 14th’s reading/talk with Pulitzer prize-winning journalist David Finkle in the Sottile Theater.