Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Morning Reading: Flannery O'Connor's Desk

The fall 2009 issue of the Santa Monica Review is now out and among the contents is a piece by Matthew Crain. Titled "Emphasis Mine," it is a series of letters written to Flannery O'Connor by a writer who signs himself Matthew. The letters praise O'Connor, ask her tough questions about the writing life, complain and confide. It's both a critical essay, biography and a memoir, a irresistible hybrid.


Somewhere I saw a picture of your desk. And it was just that: a desk with dark wood with an iron typewriter pulled up even with the edge. A few pencils in a white jar, and behind the straight-backed chair was a window. You wrote with your back to the world. How many times did your mother come across the yard and see you and peck on the glass and say, "Why don't you quit that goddamnned typin'n come outside?"

Did you ever not write something for fear it would make her mad? I wonder what stifles me, and usually the answer is, "I don't believe in myself anymore," or "I know I won't finish it," or "Elizabeth will say, 'Could've done better,' and she's right!" Did getting lupus make you fearful? Did you say, "Well, Daddy died of it and I will too," or were you mad as mad could be and cry, "Why did God let this happen when I have so much more to say!" Writing teachers preach, "Write as if it is your last day on Earth." Well, did the real thing work for you? Back to that picture of Wise Blood: How did publication affect you? Inspiring? Or behind your smile were you frozen dry? "They're expecting great things from me and I can't write a word unless I know they will all laud it!" How did you take praise? What help for me, whose first published story got in Best American Short Stories 1998, whose novel has been rejected 17 times, who resolves to call his agent a thousand times a day but knows already what she'll say about trying to sell books during a recession, who fears failure above all else - what would you tell him, "Keep the faith"? The faith that a voice will come with a story to tell, so don't strangle it with the craze to succeed? Is this the writer's faith? Is it as Rayber says to Tarwater, "Think of this as a game" in which you can write anything you want, Matthew. You have permission [emphasis mine]?


The Santa Monica Review is available in some bookstores or can be ordered online - or you can try to wrest my copy away from me. Contributors include Steve De Jarnatt whose first story, “Rubioux Rising,” was published in the Spring 2008 issue of SMR and now appears in Best American Short Stories 2009.

For more info on the Santa Monica Review, including how to order it, click here.

(Photograph of Flannery O'Connor's desk in Andalusia, her farm near Milledgeville, Georgia taken by Susana Raab for The New York Times.)


Susana said...

Thank you for crediting my photograph of Flannery O'Connor's desk (though I would appreciate it more uncropped!), it is from my series, A Sense of Place, which looks at the homes of William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor and Eudora Welty and is available in a 6" square perfect bound catalog on my website: here , and where you can also see the entire series: here
An update with writer Larry Brown's office and cabin is pending.

Rebel Girl said...

Susans - I didn't know it was cropped - I found it on the NY Times site. Beautiful, beautiful work. When I read the Matthew Crain piece, I decided to look for a picture of the desk and found yours - it seems to be the one he's writing about, no?

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