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I rather regretted, as a publisher, meeting such an interesting writer at the start of a career in which I could play no part. She told me she was committed elsewhere, and if I knew anything it was that she would honor her commitment. It was not until after her death in that I learned exactly how her publishing fate took an unexpected turn.

Book awards: Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction

I am working on the twelfth chapter now. I long ago quit numbering the pages but I suppose I am past the 50, word mark. It would discourage me to look at it right now and anyway I yearn to go about my business to the end. At the end of the year, when she was worried about money, her agent advised her to submit the new chapters in order to get a definite commitment and perhaps a further advance. I have decided, however, that no good comes of sending anything off in a hurry. They are, of course, not finished but they are finished enough for the present. She heard it on February 16 and it was not to her liking.

Wise Blood was a strange book, as Flannery would have been the first to acknowledge. He said he thought she was a pretty straight shooter, that she had an astonishing gift, but that some aspects of the book were obscured by her habit of rewriting over and over again.

To be honest, he added, he sensed a kind of aloneness in the book, as if she were writing out of her own experience, and consciously limiting this experience.

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He wished she would sit down and tell him what was what. I presume. The letter is addressed to a slightly dim-witted Campfire Girl, and I cannot look forward with composure to a lifetime of others like them. I feel that whatever virtues the novel may have are very much connected with the limitations you mention.

I am not writing a conventional novel, and I think that the quality of the novel I write will derive precisely from the peculiarity or aloneness, if you will, of the experience I write from. In short, I am amenable to criticism but only within the sphere of what I am trying to do; I will not pretend to do otherwise. The finished book, though I hope less angular, will be just as odd if not odder than the nine chapters you now have.

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He wished she would sit down and tell him what was what. I presume.

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The letter is addressed to a slightly dim-witted Campfire Girl, and I cannot look forward with composure to a lifetime of others like them. I feel that whatever virtues the novel may have are very much connected with the limitations you mention.

I am not writing a conventional novel, and I think that the quality of the novel I write will derive precisely from the peculiarity or aloneness, if you will, of the experience I write from. In short, I am amenable to criticism but only within the sphere of what I am trying to do; I will not pretend to do otherwise. The finished book, though I hope less angular, will be just as odd if not odder than the nine chapters you now have.

I work ALL the time, but I cannot work fast. Engle had recommended her. I noted what good spirits Flannery was in, as we gravely performed our roles as godparents, renouncing the devil and all his works and pomps. It is to be regretted that she did not live to see our godchild become Sister Mary Julian in She told me she was still working hard on the novel and was still committed to her publisher, though her literary agent soon informed me that the submission of additional chapters had not allayed his doubts.

Finally, in October, after she had obtained a release from him, I offered and she signed a contract for Wise Blood. The strength I sensed in Flannery at our first meeting now had an incredible strain put on it. She was stricken with lupus on her journey home for Christmas, and spent nine months, desperately ill, in and out of Emory Hospital in Atlanta.

By the end of the year the novel was ready, and we began to prepare for publication. Flannery had less vanity than anyone I have ever known. When I asked her for a photograph to use on the book jacket, I expected a picture taken before her illness. The new one she sent was not unattractive, and she looked out at the reader with that clear-eyed gaze of hers, but her hair had not fully grown back nor had the puffiness induced by cortisone wholly subsided.

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The photograph was widely reproduced when Wise Blood was published in May I was disappointed by the reviews more than she was; they all recognized her power but missed her point. In the three years following, she wrote better and better. In January we sent it to press, having set publication for June. When Flannery sent me an inscribed copy, soon after my departure, I felt a twinge of sadness that my editorial association with her books had ended.

Once again fate rearranged what seemed to be an unalterable course. After the very successful publication of A Good Man Is Hard to Find , Flannery was offered a new contract about which she asked my advice, saying she wanted to stay as long as Catherine Carver remained as her editor.

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In that case, I suggested, why not ask that such a stipulation be incorporated in the contract? This was not readily granted, but Flannery had made up her mind and in the end she got what she wanted. Within three years, after Catherine Carver and Denver Lindley had left, it came to pass that Flannery was free to join the house she remained with until her death.

Then I learned that Wise Blood was out of print, and we soon acquired this classic work.

Flannery O'Connor Reads 'Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction' (c. 1960)

Over the years I came to see how much the two had in common—a highly developed sense of comedy, deep faith, great intelligence. The aura of aloneness surrounding each of them was not an accident. They both died at the height of their powers. He gave me a presentation copy of the beautifully designed private edition of Prometheus: A Meditation to take to her.

I could not tell Merton enough about them or about Flannery and her surroundings.

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What was Milledgeville like? Was Merton allowed to talk to me? Yes, without restriction. I described our walks in the woods and the monastic routine of the day: first office Matins at two a. Up to the very end, she worked hard.


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I have to stay mostly in bed. If I were well there is a lot of rewriting and polishing I could do, but in my present state of health [the stories] are essentially all right the way they are. All eight had appeared in magazines. I was unaware of the two unpublished stories she was working on. Such operations are infinitely various but so delicate that they have eluded some of the subtlest writers. We do not naturally like anything which is unfamiliar. What turned out to be my last letter to Flannery was dated July 7,