Calvin Lashway of Las Cruces, NM, weighed in recently with this interview with Jonathan Rogers, author of a new book: The Terrible Speed of Mercy: A Spiritual Biography of Flannery O’Connor.”

Here’s how the interview begins:

Interviewer Trevin Wax: What initially attracted you to Flannery O’Connor’s work?

Jonathan Rogers: I grew up in Middle Georgia, fifty miles from Flannery O’Connor’s Milledgeville. Long before I read any of her stories, I had heard of the peculiar writer who had lived up the road. I heard a few anecdotes from people who had actually met her, and she seemed so charming and likable and – well, normal – that it was hard to imagine that she was the same person who wrote those dark, sometimes gruesome stories.

The incongruity was sharpened by the fact that she looked like some of the women in my family. On the one hand, it felt like Flannery O’Connor was old home folks. She looked like my people, talked like my people, went to some of the same places my people went. But on the other hand, she wrote about things that my people wouldn’t ever talk about.

I have been aware of that incongruity for almost as long as I have been aware of Flannery O’Connor, long before I knew anything about her faith commitments, which make her even more perplexing for many readers. Those incongruities are at the center of my biography: how could this woman have written these stories?”…

Some quotes from Flannery O’Connor who as you may or may not know, suffered for years from, and died of lupus at the age of 39:

“Sickness is a place.”

“The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that does not require his attention.”

“The type of mind that can understand good fiction is not necessarily the educated mind, but it is at all times the kind of mind that is willing to have its sense of mystery deepened by contact with reality, and its sense of reality deepened by contact with mystery.”

As Rogers observes:  “Mostly she let herself be misinterpreted.”


6 Replies to “SICKNESS IS A PLACE”

  1. Dear Heather,

    "it is at all times the kind of mind that is willing to have its sense of mystery deepened by contact with reality, and its sense of reality deepened by contact with mystery"

    This also describes well the of the faithful, as in the Catholic who seeks to be faithful to Christ through the teaching and sacrament of his Church. I think so, at least.

    And, in letting herself be misinterpreted I see her both imaging and bearing the reproach of the One she loved most dearly.

    Thank you for your posts.

  2. This is awesome. Of course now it means I have a new "Must read" book. It also means I have a new quote for Flannery Fridays. 🙂

    I hate being misinterpreted, but it's an arduous journey to acceptance of it. So, I must trudge on.

  3. Saying that O'Connor "allowed herself to be misinterpreted" implies that there is only one way to read her. I disagree. As with all good literature, there is an intentional ambiguity in her fiction that educes a diversity of legitimate interpretation.

  4. Mark, is that you!? (If so, Mark has the enviable job of working at Andalusia Farm). I see your very well-taken point. But I’m also thinking that just because a story is subject to differing interpretations doesn’t mean it also cannot be susceptible to the “wrong” interpretation (the Gospels being a prime example). To interpret O’Connor’s characters as mere “Southern grotesques,” as frequently happens, for example, is wrong. To interpret her as despising humanity, as cold-hearted, as ill-equipped to write of love because of her cloistered life at Andalusia, as I have seen reviewers do, is wrong. I’m no expert, but my sense is that she did not defend herself against the many Catholic reviewers who missed the complexity, depth, and utterly Christ-based nature of her stories.

    Whatever the case, long may her work live. I think of her almost daily, with deep honor and with eternal thanks.

    And I am very glad to know you are close by, keeping the home fires burning…

  5. Plus hi Owen and Kim! Yes, this sounds like a must-read. After my many other must-reads…

    As you may or may not all know, Kim Luisi writes a blog, Faith, Fiction and Flannery (
    Owen's also great blog is art + poetry & such ( (I think that's right).

  6. Dear Heather, yes that's correct and I also blog at bothand a.k.a. where I have writing an am showing the latest commission in process, piece by piece.

    Kim's blog is enjoyable. I've begun following.

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