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.