Friday, October 1, 2010

Flannery O'Connor declined opportunity to meet James Baldwin ....

I love Flannery O'Connor for her unique stories and for her theological outlook; she is about the only Christian -- Catholic in her case -- thinker whose ideas about faith and redemption I've thought worth pondering.  She's safety tucked into my notebook of favorite quotes for several witty comments, but most especially for the observation she made about someone's being "the sort of Christian who makes one long to be a heathen."  I've read a good amount of what there is out there about her but am always ready for more.  The new Brad Gooch biography of her is excellent.  It was sad to come across the following in it:

                    In April 1959, [Flannery's friend] Maryat met James Baldwin
                    on the street in Manhattan, prior to his leaving for a trip,
                    without a car, through Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia.
                    She wondered if Flannery would welcome a visit from the author
                    whose first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, a coming-of-age
                    story about growing up in Harlem, had been published within a
                    year of Wise Blood [O'Connor's novel].  Flannery responded
                    politely enough, though quite firmly: 'No I can't see James
                    Baldwin in Georgia.  It would cause the greatest trouble and
                    disturbance and disunion.  In New York it would be nice to
                    meet him; here it would not.  I observe the traditions of the
                    society I feed on -- it's only fair.  Might as well expect a mule
                    to fly as me to see James Baldwin in Georgia.  I have read
                    one of his stories and it was a good one.'

James Baldwin, back in the early sixties, was one of my first literary crushes; his elegant prose, particularly in his essays, was clear and forceful and intelligent.  When I read the announcement of his death in 1987 tears came to my eyes.  Then, a Sunday or so later, when the eulogy that Toni Morrison spoke at his funeral was published in The Sunday Times Book Review, tears came to my eyes again.

O'Connor -- it's impossible for me to think of her as a racist -- was, in this instance, a victim of her times (1925-1964) and the place she lived in and of her own timidity.  My admiration for this charming oddwad, who lived most of her short adult life on a farm near Milledgeville, Georgia, with her certainly racist mother, has now, after the tidbit in the Gooch biography, taken on a tinge of pity.

"The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it."
          -- Flannery O'Connor

1 comment:

  1. you poor thing. this doesn't make her a racist, only makes you out to be a little baby hungry for mommy's ever-dried-up teet