Flannery O’Connor was born in Savannah Georgia in 1925 to Edward F. O’Connor, a real estate owner, and Regina L. O’Connor, who came from a prominent Georgian family. Her family moved from Savannah to Milledgeville, her mother’s hometown, when Flannery was 12. Edward O’Connor died in 1941 from disseminated lupus (a rare, incurable disease), the illness which would later take Flannery’s life as well.
O’Connor was educated at Georgia State College for Women, and graduated in 1945. The following year, she published her first short story, “The Geranium”. She then went on to study creative writing at the University of Iowa, where she received her M.F.A. in 1947.
In 1950, she finished the novel Wise Blood, which tells the tale of Hazel Motes, a man who tries to start the Church Without Christ. Later that year, she began suffering from lupus, and returned home to the family farm in Milledgeville, where she raised peacocks and wrote. She was given cortisone injections, which managed to stop the disease, but the cortisone weakened her bones to such an extent that she had to walk on crutches from 1955 until the end of her life. After a trip to Lourdes, she said she had “the best-looking crutches in Europe”, a comment that is characteristic of both her humor and her refusal to feel sorry for herself.
Wise Blood was published in 1952 (John Huston turned it into a film in 1979). Her second novel, The Violent Bear it Away, was published in 1960, and it was also religious in nature.
O’Connor was a devout Roman Catholic, yet the characters she portrayed in her work were Protestant. She explained this by saying that Protestants are more likely to express their faith through dramatic action. This fit with her philosophy on writing about religious matters, in that she preferred not to approach the subject directly, but rather through the depiction of human actions.
Her first book of short stories, A Good Man is Hard to Find, was published in 1955, and contained pieces such as “The Life You Save May Be Your Own” and “Good Country People.” Her short stories are darkly comic, and feature a deep understanding of the rhythms of everyday Southern life, and a keen ear for Southern speech patterns. Critics referred to her as a maker of grotesques, as she often focused her tales on the darkness of human nature. To this label she commented, “Anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the Northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.”
Flannery O’Connor died from lupus on August 3, 1964 at the age of 39, leaving behind 31 short stories, various letters and speeches, and two novels. Posthumous collections include Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965), Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose (1969), The Complete Short Stories of Flannery O’Connor (1971 – National Book Award Winner), The Habit of Being: Letters (1979), The Presence of Grace and Other Book Reviews (1983), The Correspondence of Flannery O’Connor and the Brainars Cheneys (1986), and Complete Works (1988).