Here in the South, we are blessed to have The Southern Literary Trail, the nation’s only tri-state literary trail, featuring writers’ homes in Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi—three states said to be perennially at the bottom of US literacy rates. William Faulkner was once asked, Why don’t more Southerners read? He replied, Because they’re too busy writing. And one of the best, Flannery O’Connor, lived at Andalusia Farm, a 500+ acre farm complex and 1850s house just north of Milledgeville, a former capital of Georgia (1803-1868).
The home is a plain two-story farmer’s house, never intended for year-round use, only as a residence during planting or
harvest seasons. Yet this is where Mary Flannery O’Connor came to live in 1951 after being diagnosed with lupus, the disease that had killed her father. Over were her independent days of college life at Georgia State College for Women (in Milledgeville) or the heady days at the famed Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she met luminaries like Robert Penn Warren, John Crowe Ransom, and Andrew Lytle, editor of the prestigious Sewanee Review and one of the earliest admirers of her work. Gone was the excitement of staying in New York City with Robert and Sally Fitzgerald (he, the famous translator of the classics; she, later the editor of Flannery O’Connor: The Habit of Being). Nor was there an option of living in the elegant family home of her mother, Regina Cline O’Connor, located next to the former Governor’s Mansion.
No, O’Connor needed a house with a large main floor that wouldn’t require use of the upstairs, except for visitors. And she needed her mother’s care. Her doctors gave her four years to live. She lived thirteen more, dying at the age of 39. Meanwhile, she wrote. Her regimen called for three hours of writing every morning, all that her strength permitted. Her output grew to two novels and two collections of short stories, a meager amount perhaps, but not meager in quality. A measure of her success is the 1972 National Book Award for the posthumously published The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor.
I’ve been to Andalusia three times now. Each time I find something different. This time I could go upstairs, where O’Connor couldn’t go. The rooms are plain like the rest of the home, but offer great views. Another change is that the “nail house,” once used for parking cars, has collapsed. Craig Amason, Executive Director of Flannery O’Connor-Andalusia Foundation, Inc., says they left the nail house as is to point out what happens to old buildings untended. That’s not the case with Hill house, home to Robert “Jack” and Louise Hill, once the resident farmers. Its renovation completed with the help of a $120,000 matching grant from Save America’s Treasures, Hill house will have its grand opening March 12th.
My favorite part of Andalusia is the beauty of its landscape, including a lake, rustic farm buildings, and a road leading into the woods. It’s easy to imagine sitting in a rocker on the big screened front porch and sharing a glass of iced tea with Flannery O’Connor or listening to her beautiful pea fowl howl like banshees. Today the pea fowl are back (the peacock, named Manley Pointer after one of O’Connor’s characters), but their screeching has been replaced by the public address announcements from the Honda dealership just up the road. I would prefer pea fowl banshees.
Be sure to leave yourself time for other stops. Milledgeville is a charming antebellum college town, spared by General Sherman, who headquartered at the Governor’s Mansion (open for tour) November 22, 1864. Other O’Connor sites include lovely Sacred Heart Church, c. 1874, where O’Connor attended mass almost every day and which has been open each time I’ve stopped by; Memory Hill Cemetery, where O’Connor is buried; and the Flannery O’Connor Room in the Georgia College Library, containing more family furniture and copies of books translated into a wide array of languages. North, up US 441, is Eatonton, hometown to Joel Chandler Harris (The Uncle Remus Stories) and Alice Walker (The Color Purple).
Thanks to Clarke Weeks for his photography.
Next up: Part Two—Flannery O’Connor, an Appreciation
Have you visited any of the author sites on the Southern Literary Trail? If so, which one(s)? Please share your thoughts.