UNCG Campus Weekly

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Flannery O’Connor’s visit to UNCG Arts Forum remembered

Archive photo of Mary Jarrell, Randall Jarrell, Flannery O'Connor, Peter Taylor, Robert Humphrey.The literary world is marking the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Flannery O’Connor. The celebrated writer died Aug. 3, 1964.

In March of 1955, she spoke at the UNCG Arts Forum Festival. She was joined by luminaries Randall Jarrell and Peter Taylor.

UNCG has a long history of inviting acclaimed writers to campus, from Carl Sandburg to Robert Penn Warren to Maya Angelou. Earlier that month in fact, Robert Frost, perhaps the most famous 20th century American poet, had read his poetry in Elliott University Center’s original ballroom. Each year at UNCG, the public can enjoy writers’ talks, and the students enjoy the intensive discussions in the classes and seminars. UNCG’s highly respected MFA in Creative Writing program hosts a writers’ series throughout the year – and other UNCG programs host writers as well.

O’Connor participated in a panel on March 30, 1955, in the auditorium of Jackson Library (now known as Jarrell Lecture Hall). In the EUC that afternoon, she took part in a tea and conference, the schedule shows.

The March 25, 1955, Carolinian student newspaper noted that O’Connor has “a particular interest for Woman’s College” (UNCG), because when she was a master’s student at the State University of Iowa one of her early short stories was published in an Arts Forum edition of Coraddi. Coraddi is a longtime publication at UNCG.

The Carolinian added that a book of short stories – titled “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” – would be published that spring.

Professor Jim Clark, director of UNCG’s MFA writing program, has written about her visit to UNCG. He explains that her health was in decline. She had lupus, and there was concern that she must not fall, he says. She had just turned 30.

Robert Watson and Betty Watson were among those who had dinner with her. Betty Watson, the noted painter and the widow of Robert Watson, was asked recently about that dinner. It was at a faculty member’s home, and maybe eight or 10 were there, she recalls. Her impression of O’Connor? “A very shy, retiring person – very appealing in that way. I liked her.”

Professor Stuart Dischell explains how much UNCG students gain each year from visits by notable writers. Hearing them read from their works and discuss them in person is an experience that can’t be replicated digitally, he says. The students have a chance to ask questions and “talk shop.” And there’s more. “On many occasions the visiting writers will conduct workshops, giving the students an opportunity to receive further criticism from the most accomplished writers in the field.”

Judging from a note in the Carolinian, the students were able to do just that with Flannery O’Connor. “Miss O’Connor will stay on the Woman’s College (UNCG) campus during the two day writing program. She will be available for conferences with students from Woman’s College and other schools.”

By Mike Harris
Photograph courtesy Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives. L-r, Mary Jarrell, Randall Jarrell, Flannery O’Connor, Peter Taylor, Robert Humphrey.