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Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor [Kindle Edition]

Brad Gooch
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The landscape of American literature was fundamentally changed when Flannery O'Connor stepped onto the scene with her first published book, Wise Blood, in 1952. Her fierce, sometimes comic novels and stories reflected the darkly funny, vibrant, and theologically sophisticated woman who wrote them. Brad Gooch brings to life O'Connor's significant friendships--with Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Hardwick, Walker Percy, and James Dickey among others--and her deeply felt convictions, as expressed in her communications with Thomas Merton, Elizabeth Bishop, and Betty Hester. Hester was famously known as "A" in O'Connor's collected letters, The Habit of Being, and a large cache of correspondence to her from O'Connor was made available to scholars, including Brad Gooch, in 2006. O'Connor's capacity to live fully--despite the chronic disease that eventually confined her to her mother's farm in Georgia--is illuminated in this engaging and authoritative biography.


"Flannery O'Connor, one of the best American writers of short fiction, has found her ideal biographer in Brad Gooch. With elegance and fairness, Gooch deals with the sensitive areas of race and religion in O'Connor's life. He also takes us back to those heady days after the war when O'Connor studied creative writing at Iowa. There is much that is new in this book, but, more important, everything is presented in a strong, clear light." --Edmund White

"This splendid biography gives us no saint or martyr but the story of a gifted and complicated woman, bent on making the best of the difficult hand fate has dealt her, whether it is with grit and humor or with an abiding desire to make palpable to readers the terrible mystery of God's grace." --Frances Kiernan, author of Seeing Mary Plain: A Life of Mary McCarthy

"A good biographer is hard to find. Brad Gooch is not merely good-he is extraordinary. Blessed with the eye and ear of a novelist, he has composed the life that admirers of the fierce and hilarious Georgia genius have long been hoping for." -- Joel Conarroe, President Emeritus, John Simon Guggenheim Foundation

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Gooch (City Poet:The Life and Times of Frank O'Hara) offers a surprisingly bloodless biography of Flannery O'Connor (1925–1964), who, despite the author's diligent scholarship, remains enigmatic. She emerges only in her excerpted letters, speeches and fiction, where she is as sharp-tongued, censorious, piteously observant and mordantly funny as her beloved short stories. There is little genuinely interesting new material, but there are small gems—the full story of O'Connor's friendship with the mysterious A. of her letters, for instance. Perhaps mindful of the writer's dislike of being exposed in print, Gooch errs on the side of delicacy; he does not sufficiently explore her attitudes toward blacks and how the early onset of lupus left her sequestered on her mother's Georgia farm, without the male companionship she craved. Instead, he plumbs O'Connor's fiction for buried fragments of her daily life, and the revelations are hardly astonishing. Readers looking for more startling tidbits will be disappointed by this account that brims with the quiet satisfactions the author took in her industry (I sit all day typing and grinning like the Cheshire cat), her faith, friends and stoic approach to a debilitating disease. 16 pages of b&w photos. (Feb. 25)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

Drawing on recently unsealed letters and an impressive array of interviews, Gooch provides the first major biography of Flannery O�Connor since she died in 1964, at the age of thirty-nine. He presents a writer influenced by the early death of her father and the retreat from city life to country; an Irish Catholic upbringing that evolved into an adult fascination with theology; and a Southern small-town culture whose matrons, including O�Connor�s mother, were happy for her success but put off by the unladylike nature of her work��Everybody here shakes my hand but nobody reads my stories.� Though she spent time in both the Midwest and the Northeast, lupus narrowed the circle of her life to a dairy farm in Milledgeville, Georgia, where she collected exotic birds. Gooch�s account is meticulous, but O�Connor�s sedate, chaste life is pale in comparison with her fantastic fiction�a contrast that underscores her inscrutable genius.
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Product Details

  • File Size: 719 KB
  • Print Length: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (January 20, 2009)
  • Sold by: Hachette Book Group
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B001Q8V6LW
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #141,181 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
73 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "I Farm From The Rocking Chair" March 9, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A very long time ago in a graduate English course I read all the fiction of Flannery O'Connor and have not read her since. Brad Gooch's new biography FLANNERY: A LIFE OF FLANNERY O'CONNOR convinced me that I should reread her, and that is no small compliment for a biographer. Too often a pedestrian account of some favorite writer's life will leave me unmoved--I have yet to finish a biography of Emily Dickinson although I have tried to read several-- although that is certainly not the case with Mr. Gooch. From the opening paragraph of his telling of the five-year-old Mary Flannery's (she was called both names as a child) visit by a Pathe newsreel company camerman for the purpose of filming her bantam chicken walking backwards to the sad account of the death and funeral of one of America's most celebrated writers, the story seldom drags.

Born on March 25, 1925 in Savannah of Irish Catholic parents, Edward and Regina O'Connor, Flannery lived there until she was thirteen when the family moved to Milledgeville, Georgia. Her beloved father died in 1941 at the young age of 45 of lupus, the disease that would eventually kill Flannery. She attended Georgia State College for Women in Milledgeville, then the Iowa Writers' Workshop and Yaddo, the artists' colony in upstate New York. Stricken with lupus at 25, O'Connor returned to Milledgeville and lived there for the rest of her too short life-- she died at the age of 39--with her mother on a dairy farm surrounded by peacocks and other animals as well as both black and white farmworkers, some of whom would become models for the "freaks" she wrote about in her fiction.
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31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Good Bio is (Not) Hard to Find March 11, 2009
I've loved Flannery O'Connor since I was in college; back then, I read a story a night before I went to bed. I tried to turn my friends onto her but to no avail, even despite my overenthusiastic description of "A Good Man is Hard to Find" as the worst family vacation story ever. It was then that I found an essay on O'Connor by Alice Walker that had originally been published in "Ms." magazine in the 70s. It made me curious about who O'Connor was but despite the descriptions of her as a Southern Catholic writer who had lupus and loved peacocks, I knew very little.

Only last summer I was looking through the holdings at the local library and was disappointed at the lack of biographical works on O'Connor. And six months later, here we are with Brad Gooch's brand new biography. It's astonishing to me that this is the first major biography for such a major and influential twentieth-century writer. (As compared to the few biographies that were part of a series on major authors that were best used as references for students - but what about the rest of us?) O'Connor died in 1964 so this book has been a long time coming and it's been worth the wait.

Gooch, whose biography of the poet Frank O'Hara (another subject with a life cut short) was a great achievement, has written an accessible and thoroughly entertaining work on the short life but indelible career of one of my favorite authors. The background on O'Connor and her writing is invaluable as is the insight into how many characters in her stories were inspired by her own mother, Regina including the memorable, doomed Mrs. May from "Greenleaf." Gooch gives us more insight into the "Southern Catholic writer," showing us the fascinating woman whose knowledge of her impending fate spurred her into producing some amazing fiction.
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Brad Gooch's "Flannery" passes the test fundamental test for excellence in a biography: when the book is finished the reader fundamentally understands the subject of the book in a way he or she did not before.

Like many readers of my generation (graduated high school 1978), I had a good introduction to Miss O'Connor's short stories - sprung on us with relish by an English teacher from the South. Compared with most of the other materials we were covering those stories were shocking to say the least. Over the years I wondered what kind of life the author must have led to produce those stories - both the hard edges and the evident spirtuality they contained. We (those outside the literary world) did not know much about O'Connor in that era - only that she was a serious Roman Catholic and had died young after a long fight with Lupus.

Brad Gooch's exhaustive research surely paid off as he fills in the details - about her family life, her medical conditions, her spirtual life and both the joys and difficulties of her writing. Perhaps what surprised me the most were the legion of friends and fans this very unusual women attracted living, as she did, a rather quiet life in a generally quiet place.

Professor Gooch provides his readers with a very vivid portrait of Miss O'Connor's struggles - and how her faith and her sickness found their way into her works. As a Roman Catholic myself, reflecting on Miss O'Connor's strong faith in the face of her difficulties through this biography seemed very fitting for Lent.

I suspect, based upon the lengthy acknowledgements and sources cited (these should certainly be read) that Professor Gooch could have written a far longer book. I am glad he did not. The size, scope and pacing were all excellent.

I commend this biography to any one who ever wondered about Flannery O'Connor or, indeed, the American literary scene after the War.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb biography of an outstanding author.
I enjoyed the book so much. It is well-written and researched. I became even more fond of Flannery O'Connor as I read this book. Read more
Published 3 months ago by medievalReader
2.0 out of 5 stars A Good Biography is Hard to Find
I bought and read this book when it came out. I then decided not to write a review. I have now reread it and think I can write a review of sorts. Read more
Published 10 months ago by N. Ravitch
4.0 out of 5 stars The Life Behind the Stories
I really enjoyed this birth-to-death biography of Flannery O'Connor. I was introduced to O'Connor in my college writing classes by the matchless Dr. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Andrew Gilmore
4.0 out of 5 stars Reaqding O'Connor
Find her books interesting. Grew up in the "south", but not too far south, so some stories are definitely recognized.
Published 12 months ago by willie b
4.0 out of 5 stars A great gift!
I purchased this as a gift for a very dear friend...she enjoys reading all things Flannery! I'm waiting to hear how she likes this one!
Published 17 months ago by Sharon A. Gentile
4.0 out of 5 stars Very enjoyable, well researched bio; highly recommended
I remember reading Wise Blood: A Novel and some of O'Connor's stories when I was in grad school, back in 1969-70. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Timothy J. Bazzett
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary!
This is an extradinary biography -- well written, informative and inciteful. A page-turner. A must-have for Flannery O'Connor affectionatos. Craig Anderson
Published 24 months ago by Stephanie Anderson
3.0 out of 5 stars Uncomprehending
Gooch thoroughly and artfully describes O'Connor's upbringing, family, education, literary style, work habits, literary friendships, and the real-life observations and situations... Read more
Published on March 24, 2013 by James G. Bruen Jr.
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Read! I was there.
I was at Georgia State College for Women at the time talked about in this book. Brad Gooch captures the ethos of a southern women’s college in the 1940s masterfully, girls learning... Read more
Published on February 22, 2013 by Robert C. Stuart
2.0 out of 5 stars Inadequate and disappointing
For a book about a writer and writing, by an English professor, this book was, ironically, poorly edited. Read more
Published on January 4, 2013 by Mockingbird
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More About the Author

Brad Gooch is the author of the acclaimed biography of Frank O'Hara, City Poet, as well as Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Biography, along with other nonfiction and three novels. The recipient of National Endowment for the Humanities and Guggenheim fellowships, he earned his Ph.D. at Columbia University and is Professor of English at William Paterson University in New Jersey. He lives in New York City.

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