The writer Flannery O'Connor was inducted into The American Poet's Corner at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City on Sunday, November 2nd, 2014.
The induction ceremony included a traditional Choral Evensong featuring excerpts from O'Connor's writing and reflections on the religious implications of her work. A procession led the assembled congregation, that included members of O'Connor's family, to the Poet's Corner for the unveiling of a stone bearing Flannery O'Connor's name and a quote from the iconic writer which read: "I can, with one eye squinted, take it all as a blessing."
Mary Flannery O'Connor was born on March 25th, 1925 in Savannah, Georgia and died from Lupus only 39 years later in 1964. The writer's works include two novels Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away; as well as 32 short stories including the classics A Good Man Is Hard To Find, and Revelation. Her collection The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor won the National Book Award in 1972, eight years after her death.
O'Connor's fiction is known for its gothic sensibility, dark humor and haunting spirituality. On the day of the ceremony, the New York Times featured an interview with Bruce Springsteen who, when asked to "name one book that made you who you are today," named Flannery O'Connor's collection of stories saying:
"...the short stories of Flannery O’Connor landed hard on me. You could feel within them the unknowability of God, the intangible mysteries of life that confounded her characters, and which I find by my side every day. They contained the dark Gothicness of my childhood and yet made me feel fortunate to sit at the center of this swirling black puzzle, stars reeling overhead, the earth barely beneath us.
Ms. O'Connor also had several collections of non-fiction published including The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor, and A Prayer Journal, both of which illuminate much of the spirituality behind O'Connor's writing. The bulletin for the Evensong induction included an excerpt from A Prayer Journal, which was maintained by O'Connor in her early years:
Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth's shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see; but what i am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that i will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing. I do no know you God because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside.
The American Poet's Corner was started in 1984 at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine to honor the great tradition of American letters. The first inductees were Walt Whitman, Washington Irving and Emily Dickinson. The Poet's Corner selection process is overseen by the current Cathedral Poet-in-Residence who appoints electors who help choose the year's inductee. The current Poet-In-Residence, Marilyn Nelson, wrote about Flannery O'Connor in a booklet written in honor of her induction.
I am very pleased to be part of the induction of Mary Flannery O'Connor into the American Poets Corner. Some of her stories have stayed with me since I first read them in high school - not always comfortably, but with a deep appreciation for her perception and her ironic sense of humor. She has always seemed to me to be a writer who from her small corner saw very clearly the foibles of our crazy human race, and our tendency to congratulate ourselves for what we perceive as positive attributes, but are really symptoms of narrow mindedness.
Like her character, The Misfit, in A Good Man is Hard To Find, I've believed that most of us would be good people if 'it had been somebody there to shoot (us) every minute of (our) lives." And like Flannery O'Connor, I am sustained by faith in the inexplicable grace by which God loves us anyway.