Mary Flannery O’Connor was born on March 25, 1925, in Savannah, Georgia, to Edward Francis O’Connor and Regina Cline O’Connor. Her family moved to Atlanta for her father’s work when O’Connor was a teenager but had to return to their home in Milledgeville, Georgia, after her father contracted lupus. He died three years later. O’Connor later studied at a private high school before entering George State College for Women, where she worked for the student newspaper and literary magazine. She had enjoyed writing since childhood, and the stories she composed in college merited admission to the master’s program at the University of Iowa’s writer’s workshop. There, she honed her craft and began publishing fiction. Her first story, “The Geranium,” appeared in Accent when she was only twenty-one and earned her both an award and a publishing contract for her first novel. She began working on the novel Wise Blood while working as a teaching assistant at the University of Iowa after receiving her master’s degree in 1947.
O’Connor accepted an invitation to work on Wise Blood at Yaddo, a respected artist’s colony in Saratoga Springs, New York. Her publisher, however, disliked the initial drafts, so she switched publishers and submitted portions of the novel for publication in prominent journals such as the Paris Review. While visiting her mother in Georgia for Christmas, O’Connor’s health began to decline, and doctors ultimately diagnosed her with lupus, from which she would eventually die. Fearing that she would live only three more years as her father had, she left New York and decided to live with her mother on their Georgian dairy farm, Andalusia. O’Connor lived there quietly for several years until she completed and published Wise Blood in 1952. Critics condemned the novel as an affront to Christianity for its satire on American religious life but recognized O’Connor’s phenomenal talent as a writer.
O’Connor published her first collection of short stories, A Good Man Is Hard to Find, in 1955 and then followed up with a second novel in 1960, The Violent Bear It Away. Although critics loved her short fiction, her second novel suffered as Wise Blood had. Nevertheless, O’Connor’s reputation grew, and she continued to write, lecture, and teach until her death in 1964. Everything That Rises Must Converge, her second volume of short stories, was published posthumously in 1965, and she posthumously won the National Book Award in 1972 for her Collected Stories. O’Connor’s popularity has increased since her death, and many now deem her one of the best short story writers of the twentieth century.
“Everything That Rises Must Converge” was written in 1961 in the midst of the American civil rights movement. The ideas of intergenerational conflict and transforming social mores play out against the backdrop of racial desegregation in the South. O’Connor’s story focuses on tensions that emerged after integration. Uncomfortable depicting the interior life of black Americans, she avoided incorporating black characters into her stories except as chorus figures or fringe characters, as is evident in this story. Still, the black characters’ silence in this story adds to the sense of tension between whites and African Americans in the mid-twentieth-century South.
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