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Jill Peláez Baumgaertner

Missing Person

We still need a biography of Flannery O'Connor.

At a conference luncheon some years ago, I sat next to Sally Fitzgerald, Flannery O'Connor's longtime friend and the editor of her collected works. O'Connor aficionados had been breathlessly awaiting the biography that Fitzgerald was purportedly writing, and so that day at the table we were eager for whatever revelations Fitzgerald was willing to divulge. There were none (it turns out there was probably also no biography, as we would discover later), but Fitzgerald was ready with hints for all of us. After a scathing review of various O'Connor critics, she turned to a well-known author sitting at the table and said, "I have your book with all of the corrections written in. If you'd like me to send it to you in exchange for a new copy, I would be happy to do so." I imagine the author never got around to arranging this exchange.

It is not too hard to conclude what Fitzgerald would have thought of Brad Gooch's new biography of O'Connor. Gooch indicates that in 1980, Fitzgerald discouraged him from even considering beginning such a project since she claimed it would be so similar to her own. She impertinently offered to hire him as an assistant should that need ever arise, however. And it would be safe to say that during Fitzgerald's lifetime, without her imprimatur no biography of O'Connor would ever have been authorized. The family and Fitzgerald jealously guarded letters and other primary sources, and Fitzgerald wanted to be sure that any picture that would emerge in any biography would be one thoroughly vetted by herself. She wanted absolute control.

Years passed, and it became clear that—despite her repeated claims to the contrary—no biography would emerge from Fitzgerald's mounds of research. In 2000, she died without finishing her project. In 2003, Jean W. Cash published Flannery O'Connor: A Life, the first biography of the author. Reviewers were generally disappointed in the work, calling it an overwhelming collection of facts that did not create a picture ...

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