By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published May 10, 2007
Author Flannery O’Connor and Elizabeth “Betty” Hester first began corresponding in 1955, when Hester wrote a letter to O’Connor commenting on her work.
Having read O’Connor’s collection of short stories, “A Good Man Is Hard To Find,” Hester told O’Connor in a letter that she thought the stories were about God.
O’Connor quickly responded to Hester, seeking more information about the stranger that understood her writing so well.
It was the beginning of a friendship that lasted nearly a decade, with O’Connor and Hester exchanging written communication almost weekly until O’Connor’s death in 1964.
Hester donated the letters to Emory University in 1987 with a stipulation that they remain sealed for 20 years. Now, after two decades, the university will unveil the 274 letters to the public May 12.
Edited versions of some of the letters were published, with Hester referred to only as “A” in “The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor” in 1979, but this is the first time researchers will be able to view all the letters in their entirety.
Steve Ennis, director of Emory’s manuscripts, archives and rare books collection, said that the late Sally Fitzgerald, who edited “The Habit of Being,” was protective of O’Connor when choosing and editing the letters that were published. The entire collection, he said, will give O’Connor scholars a chance to see the author in a new way.
“There are 79 additional letters that have never seen the light of day, and part of the reason they didn’t see the light of day is because Fitzgerald was very close to O’Connor and quite protective of her,” Ennis said. “I think people are going to get a rather ‘unglossed’ view of O’Connor from these letters.”
Hester, who worked for the credit company that later became Equifax, was a reclusive woman, whose identity as one of O’Connor’s confidants was not revealed until Hester’s death in 1998. Many O’Connor scholars consider Hester the most important correspondent in O’Connor’s life.
A Georgia native, O’Connor attended Georgia State College for Women (now Georgia College and State University) in Milledgeville and went on to earn a master’s degree from the State University of Iowa.
A parishioner of Sacred Heart Church in Milledgeville, O’Connor’s devout Catholicism had a strong influence on her writing. Her work includes the novels “Wise Blood” and “The Violent Bear It Away.”
On May 22, Woodruff Library and the Aquinas Center of Theology at Emory University will co-sponsor a dramatic reading of the O’Connor-Hester letters at Emory’s Cannon Chapel at 6 p.m. Actress Brenda Bynum will read the letters, and the event is free and open to the public. A reception will follow.
“This was a longstanding correspondence between these two woman, and they discussed everything from literature to current events to spirituality,” said Mary Alma Durrett, senior secretary of the Aquinas Center of Theology.
For more information, contact Donna Bradley at (404) 727-7620 or by e-mail at email@example.com.