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O'Connor: This is a hellish question inspired by the devil who tempts textbook publishers. I have been writing stories for fifteen years without a definition of one. The best I can do is tell you what a story is not.
1) It is not a joke.
2) It is not an anecdote.
3) It is not a lyric rhapsody in prose.
4) It is not a case history.
5) It is not a reported incident.
It is none of these things because it has an extra dimension and I think this extra dimension comes about when the writer puts us in the middle of some human action and shows it as it is illuminated and outlined by mystery. In every story there is some minor revelation which, no matter how funny the story may be, gives us a hint of the unknown, of death.
Posted March 10, 2007
If, like me, you are so entranced by the fiction of Flannery O¿Connor that you must read everything else of hers, you have two options. First: the lectures and many pungent letters in her one-volume collected works from the Library of America. These shed real light on her thoughts and craft and make an essential companion to her fiction. Second: this book, ¿Conversations with Flannery O¿Connor¿ (1987), compiling interviews, panel discussions, and TV and radio appearances. Here we discover that Flannery spoke ad lib pretty much as she wrote: tart, thoughtful, dryly witty, proudly regional, and skeptical of nearly everything except her Roman Catholic faith. Some Flannery samples: --Doesn¿t she want a large audience? ¿I can wait. A few readers go a long way when they¿re the right kind. There are so many of the other kind. The writer is only free when he can tell the reader to go jump in the lake. You want, of course, to get what you have to show across to him, but whether he likes it or not is no concern of the writer.¿ --¿One reason I like to publish short stories is that nobody pays any attention to them. In 10 years or so they will begin to be known but the process is not obnoxious. When you publish a novel, the racket is like a fox in the hen house.¿ --¿Everywhere I go I¿m asked if I think universities stifle writers. I think they don¿t stifle enough of them. The kind of writing that can be taught is the kind you then have to teach people not to read.¿ --¿The Christian novelist¿s basic problem is that he is trying to get the Christian vision across to an audience for whom it is meaningless....His work will have to have value on the dramatic level, the level of truth recognizable by anybody.¿ --¿Words should be an intense pleasure in themselves, just as leather is to a shoemaker.¿ --What is integration doing to the culture of the South? ¿I don¿t think it is doing anything to it. White people and colored people are used to milling around together in the South, and this integration only means that they are going to be milling around together in a few more places. No basic attitudes are being changed. Industrialization is what changes the culture of the South, not integration.¿ (1963) --¿The uneducated Southern Negro is not the clown he¿s made out to be. He¿s a man of very elaborate manners and great formality which he uses superbly for his own protection and to insure his own privacy....The [white] Southerner has enough sense not to ask for the ideal but only for the possible, the workable.¿ (1963) --¿Southern history has reinforced what the fiction writer...has to show the world...that the human situation is a good deal more complex and cross-purposed than ideals and abstractions allow for. This is...a function of art, but the South knows it better than the rest of the country....The best American writing has always been regional. But to be regional in the best sense you have to see beyond the region.¿
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