This issue is a tribute to Flannery O’Connor. Eleven essays are accompanied by the work of 11 short story writers, more than a dozen poets, 7 visual artists, a book review, and a series of O’Connor’s letters in their original forms. Photographs by Kathleen Gerard of O’Connor’s residence, Andalusia, are marvelous with their intricate shadows and acute sense of place. I had never really wanted to visit this site until I saw these photos.
Essays offer personal approaches to O’Connor’s work, analysis of her themes and prose, and assessments of her overall cultural importance. Most original and appealing are essays by Kori E. Frazier, Jake Adam York, and Amy Weldon, intelligent personal reflections that demonstrate the very best qualities of creative nonfiction.
There is much fine poetry in this issue, similar in many ways to the essays I liked best, personal, yet intelligent, that special experience of encountering a unique habit of mind articulating something both familiar and yet entirely un-thought until it occurs in front of us on the page. Perhaps that was, too, O’Connor’s greatest strength. I liked, in particular, poems by Betty Adcock, Rodney Jones, and the always-great Alice Friman (“Visiting Flannery”).
Joyce Carol Oates is the best known of the fiction writers represented here, but most contributors are accomplished and widely published. Stories tend to be rich in terms of language, fairly traditional in form, and considerably less odd, in my view, than O’Connor’s work, though no less weighty. I liked especially “A Cheerful Tune” by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers, its title at odds with its serious Ku-Klux-Klan related theme. Most stories in this issue possess both a sense of immediacy and of lasting significance.
This tribute issue reminds us that as time goes on O’Connor – and the places that mattered to her, literary and physical – continues to deserve our attention and reconsideration. And that means the same is true of Shenandoah.