Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Reception for Flannery O’Connor’s ‘Prayer Journal’ set for Jan. 26

By PAULA LAWTON BEVINGTON, Special to the Bulletin | Published January 9, 2014

Flannery O’Connor, arguably Georgia’s preeminent author, has a new book out. Never mind that she has been dead nearly 50 years. “A Prayer Journal,” written by O’Connor and edited by William A. Sessions, was published in November 2013 and has evoked high praise from reviewers.

The board of the Flannery O’Connor – Andalusia Foundation will celebrate “A Prayer Journal” at a reception at the Piedmont Driving Club, Atlanta, on Sunday, Jan. 26, at 5 p.m. Tickets are $100 apiece, and space is limited.

The Foundation is charged with maintaining and promoting O’Connor’s literary legacy and preserving the Milledgeville farm where she lived the last 13 years of her brief, productive life. Sessions, Regents professor emeritus of English at Georgia State University, Atlanta, personal friend of O’Connor and author of the forthcoming first authorized biography of O’Connor, will deliver brief comments at the reception. He wrote the introduction for the new book.

O’Connor’s body of work includes two novels, 31 short stories and several collections, including her letters, some non-fiction and even a book of cartoons she drew for high school and college publications. Her work has been translated into at least 16 languages.

“A Prayer Journal” offers an answer to the fascination that O’Connor seems to hold for today’s reader. In the view of O’Connor scholar Ralph Wood, of Baylor University, the book’s “spare petitions, offered mainly for greater faith in the face of persistent doubt, reveal why O’Connor would eventually become the most important Christian writer this country has yet produced.”  Many readers would not limit their description of O’Connor to the realm of Christian writers but rather see her work as intensely God-aware.

O’Connor spent her life, for the most part, out of the limelight. She was introspective and nourished that introspection through keen observation. Even as early as “The Prayer Journal,” which she wrote off and on between 1946 and 1947, she is an examiner. Bruce Gentry, O’Connor scholar at Georgia College and State University, Milledgeville, observes that O’Connor, in her “Journal,” “investigates her conscious mind, her subconscious mind, even her unconscious mind, to figure out how to love God fully and also how to reach what she considered an almost opposite goal: to become a great writer.” She started that process even before she began her “Journal.”

According to the 1940 census, the citizenry of Milledgeville then numbered 6,778. Two of those citizens, Mary Flannery O’Connor and her mother, Regina Cline O’Connor, had arrived in the fall of 1938 after a short sojourn in Atlanta where Edward O’Connor, Flannery’s father, had taken a job with the Federal Housing Administration. Thirteen-year-old Flannery and her mother found life in Atlanta difficult and chose to move to Milledgeville where they lived in a Cline family home with relatives.

Flannery entered Peabody High School, an experimental school run by the Education Department of Georgia State College for Women. Her father commuted to the central Georgia city on weekends, and then moved there himself as his health deteriorated. He died in early 1941.

Immediately after graduation from Peabody, Flannery joined an accelerated wartime program at Georgia State College for Women (now co-educational and renamed Georgia College and State University), graduating in 1945, shortly after her 20th birthday. She won a scholarship for graduate study in journalism at the University of Iowa, but soon transferred to the university’s Writers Workshop. It was there that she filled 29 notebook pages, reproduced in facsimile in the “Journal,” with her conversation with God. She earned a master of fine arts at Iowa in 1947. The next few years found her in residence at the writers’ colony Yaddo and later at the home of her friend Sally Fitzgerald in Connecticut, writing all the while. In late 1950, she became ill and was misdiagnosed—as her father had been—with an acute form of arthritis. In early 1951, an Atlanta doctor correctly diagnosed her illness as lupus.

Flannery and her mother moved to the family farm, Andalusia, outside Milledgeville. There the author wrote and published, even traveled a little, including a visit to Lourdes, France, (where, reports Fitzgerald, she “prayed for my book, not my bones”). Her fame grew nationally and internationally, with her death in August 1964 an interruption, not an ending to that renown.

The reader of “A Prayer Journal” may be surprised by its erudition. Reviewer Kevin Begos makes an astute observation in an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Nov. 16, 2013): “Readers from all walks of life may appreciate the mixture of faith, self-doubt, determination and resignation that runs through “A Prayer Journal,” but book lovers will be pleased to note that she presumes God is quite well read. Various passages mention Coleridge, Kafka, Proust, Freud and Lawrence.”

A surprise for its eloquence, a consolation for its humility, a foreshadowing of the talent to come: “A Prayer Journal” speaks to the entire breadth of the global audience that Flannery O’Connor won 50 years ago and to her intensely loyal following of today.


To attend the Prayer Journal reception at the Piedmont Driving Club on Jan. 26, contact Mark Jurgensen at or 478-454-4029. Space is limited.