Today (March 25, 2015) would have been Southern writer Flannery O’Connor’s 90th birthday. A few days ago, the LSU English Department held a birthday party for her – yep, a birthday party! – at the campus Barnes & Noble Booksellers, where scholars, alums and writers read their choices of passages either from O’Connor’s works, or from literary criticism.
From the time that LSU Boyd Professor of English Jerry Kennedy asked me to participate, I was in, not that I was an O’Connor. I did have a lost fondness for her, however. Like Flannery O’Connor, I grew up in middle Georgia. And like she had been, I am an only child who was raised Catholic in the heavily Protestant Peach State. It had been years since I had read anything by O’Connor, but this was a good excuse to get reacquainted.
I chose to read from Wise Blood, one of only two O’Connor novels, and her first. This bizarre book, chock-full of Southern Gothic weirdnesses, was also made into John Huston movie in 1979 starring Brad Dourif, the actor who played Billy Bibbit in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and Doc Cochran in the HBO series, Deadwood (2004-2006). Wise Blood has everything from a precocious preacher’s daughter to a main character who insists on establishing the “Church Without Christ.” It also has juicy, memorable lines like, “her hair was so thin it looked like ham gravy running down her face.”
Odd. Weird. Fun. Funny. Southern.
Event organizer and LSU Associate Professor of English, Brannon Costello said it best when he remarked that only a Southern Gothic writer like Flannery O’Connor would appreciate that there we were, on a Sunday afternoon in Barnes & Noble, throwing a birthday party for a dead person. For me, it just felt great to have a reading assignment – something that made me think, grow — and in this case, laugh and cringe at the same time.
Cavalier House Books in Denham Springs, a terrific independent bookshop in Denham Springs Louisiana, includes Wise Blood among its recommended summer reads featuring Southern women writers. I got to know this bookstore when I signed copies of Hungry for Louisiana here during an evening celebration in May held among Denham Springs’ downtown merchants. It was so much fun and I would trust any titles suggested by John, Michelle and Victoria – Cavalier House’s sharp and capable team.