Praying to be a Fine Writer
Out this week, Flannery O’Connor’s Prayer Journal shows another side of the master of Southern Gothic.
Today I have proved myself a glutton – for Scotch oatmeal cookies and erotic thought. – from A Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor
I first heard about Flannery O’Connor’s Prayer Journal last year around this time at a symposium Deep South co-sponsored in Lafayette, Louisiana. We were celebrating 50 years since O’Connor spoke on the UL Lafayette campus here and invited Regents’ Professor of English Emeritus at Georgia State University Bill Sessions to be one of our guests at the conference. A friend of O’Connor’s family, he is working on the first official biography of her and is also responsible for bringing her prayer journal to light.
At the time, he said that O’Connor’s journal represents the only formal prayers written by a major American writer. It’s fitting that O’Connor would be the one to fill this void in literature. Deeply religious and Catholic, religion permeates all of her work and consumed her thoughts, as evidenced by her journal entries.
“Please let Christian principles permeate my writing and please let there be enough of my writing (published) for Christian principles to permeate,” she writes on page 5.
O’Connor began her journal in ink and pencil during a snowy January of 1946, writing from her dorm room at the University of Iowa. She had been accepted into the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and planned to study journalism. She met many writers and critics there, including Robert Penn Warren and Andrew Lytle. O’Connor decided to study writing instead and asked God for help in crafting her stories.
” … I want to be a fine writer. Any success will tend to swell my head – unconsciously even. If I ever do get to be a fine writer, it will not be because I am a fine writer but because God has given me credit for a few of the things He kindly wrote for me,” she writes on page 23.
At some point God answered O’Connor’s prayers, because she began writing her novel Wise Blood while still writing the journal. Her workshop director in Iowa, Paul Engle, was the first to read and comment on her initial drafts of the book.
O’Connor’s self-deprecating humor also shines through in the journal. “If we could accurately map heaven some of our up-&-coming scientists would begin drawing blueprints for its improvement, and the bourgeois would sell guides 10 cents the copy to all over 65,” she writes while telling God that she can imagine hell much clearer than she can heaven on page 6.
Age 20 when she begins the journal, O’Connor is asking for guidance in her life and career throughout the pages of her journal. She is afraid of losing her faith – maybe as she goes out in the world and leaves her sheltered home life in the South – and above all wants God to grant her grace.
“I have been reading Mr. Kafka and I feel his problem of getting grace. But I see it doesn’t have to be that way for the Catholic who can go to Communion every day … Please give me the necessary grace, oh Lord, and please don’t let it be as hard to get as Kafka made it,” she writes on pages 13 and 16.
A Prayer Journal: Flannery O’Connor is a humbling look into the private thoughts of a burgeoning writer who would die way too early. This little book belongs on the shelf of all of her fans, who will especially appreciate the original text in O’Connor’s own hand printed in the back.
We have one copy of A Prayer Journal: Flannery O’Connor to give away, along with your very own prayer journal from Val Marie Paper. Comment here and tell us what you’re praying for this month to be entered to win. Entries will be accepted through November 20, and a winner chosen at random. Please note that we will only mail copies of giveaway books to winners living in the United States. If you’re located outside of the country, feel free to comment but please disclose that you are not eligible to win.
Two eggheads / November 15, 2013
Mary Flannery O’Conner may have been Roman Catholic, but I daresay reading her diary would be fitting for most writers who possess a catholic, or universal belief in God.
Two eggheads / November 15, 2013
Although Flannery O’Connor was Roman Catholic, it appears from reading this review that her diary would have catholic, or universal, appeal to any author who has an awareness of the connection writing has to one’s personal spirituality.
jalen / November 16, 2013
Praying for friends with diseases to heal
Rose / November 16, 2013
I am so excited to hear about this prayer journal. I love Flannery O’Connor, and I’ve never heard of this journal before. I’d love to have a copy. This month is the perfect month to have a thankful attitude toward God, and if I had this prayer journal I’d write prayers for God’s grace on my children and so many other things.
carol / November 16, 2013
WOW! Love some Flannery -actually revisited some here recently -very surprised to see this!
Kimmi / November 16, 2013
I love this. My prayers are for healing for my family. My grandmother passed a year and a half ago and it still seems like yesterday. The greiving process has been extremely hard. She was 86 and the rock of our family. We are a very large and very close family. Less than a year after my grandmother passed my 7 year old cousin passed. He was amazing, beautiful and full of love. Our family seems lost without them. Everything seems so unfamiliar, without them. I also pray for my 19 year old son who is trying to find his place in this world. It’s a big and scary place and we all need God’s guidance. Thank you for the opportunity to possibly have this journal.
Prairie des Femmes / November 16, 2013
Love what she said about God’s credit.
jessad / November 16, 2013
when I’m saying my night time prayers I always include a prayer for “world peace” and during this month of November I’m more thankful that while my family is apart we have our health and continued well being.
Linda / November 16, 2013
I am praying earnestly for my daughters to grow as godly women and to have a deep spiritual relationship with their future husbands.
PattiPT / November 16, 2013
Flannery O’Connor is my favorite American author. I’d love to win one of these prayer books!
Magistra / November 17, 2013
I teach a graduate seminar centered on women writers of the modern South, and the class concludes with O’Connor’s Wiseblood, a novel that, frankly, creeped my students out. Reading them excerpts from O’Connor’s spiritual journal could make the voice of the Wiseblood narrator feel more human, more earnest, more intimate. I’d, of course, thrill to have the journal, too!
Annie / November 18, 2013
I’m praying for faith – faith that my daughter and I will not lose our home.
Carrie / November 18, 2013
This month the prayers tend more towards gratitude, as they always should but often don’t. What a beautiful journal & book!
Carmen / November 18, 2013
Not to be explicit, but in general, my prayers can be boiled down to thank you, please, and I’m sorry. And, thank you, again 🙂
Cynlouannsue / November 18, 2013
I pray to tell God thank you and to ask him to make our world leaders wise and to help them make wise choices as leaders.
Susan / November 18, 2013
Praying for the health of my friends, family, and pets; for will power to get back in shape; for a lovely family Christmas; for a greater understanding of my own spirituality and a greater connection to Spirit.
Leslie / November 19, 2013
Flannery O’Connor’s Prayer Journal allows us to learn about the private thoughts of this major Southern author. What a gift! I pray for the health of my family, for the tornado victims and for the Earth. Thank you for the opportunity to have this beautiful journal.
Judy / November 20, 2013
I think most writers offer the same prayer as O’Connor – to be a fine writer – to be worthy of the words I write. I pray those words each time I sit down to a blank screen. This journal is such a gift to all writers and lovers of Southern authors. She is an amazing writer.
Erin Z. Bass / Author / November 20, 2013
That’s so true, Judy!
Myra / November 20, 2013
Knowing how inextricably tied our written words are to our inner core, I pray that as I continually edit my words in search of beautiful and inspirational prose, my efforts will rub off on my character – as opposed to my imperfect and crass self slipping into my writing!
Erin Z. Bass / Author / November 21, 2013
Excited to announce that the winner of Flannery O’Connor’s Prayer Journal and her very own journal from Val Marie Paper is Kimmi! Thanks to everyone who commented. I hope all of your prayers get answered this holiday season.
S. T. Greene / December 12, 2013
I’m praying for deeper understanding of the world, and quite possibly worlds, around me, so I can make clearer, more selfless choices as life goes on.