Mary Flannery O’Connor was born in 1925 in Savannah, Georgia. She moved to Atlanta with her family as a teenager but moved to Milledgeville, Georgia, when her father was diagnosed with lupus. He died three years later when she was just fifteen. When O’Connor was a young woman, she began studying at Georgia State College for Women. An avid writer since childhood, she worked for the student newspaper and literary magazine and also wrote stories. These stories won her a place in the master’s program at the University of Iowa’s writer’s workshop, where she honed her craft and began publishing fiction. When she was twenty-one, she published her first story, “The Geranium,” in Accent, a publication that earned her both an award and a contract for her first novel. O’Connor received her degree in 1947, then worked as a teaching assistant at the University of Iowa while beginning to write her novel, Wise Blood.

O’Connor continued writing Wise Blood at Yaddo, a respected artist’s colony in Saratoga Springs, New York, but her publisher disliked the first drafts. Rather than start from scratch, O’Connor chose a new publisher and submitted portions of the novel for publication in prominent journals. After leaving Yaddo, O’Connor lived in New York City and briefly in Connecticut. When O’Connor was twenty-five, her health began to decline, and doctors diagnosed her with lupus. Fearing that she would live only three more years as her father had, she left New York and moved in with her mother on their Georgian dairy farm, Andalusia. There, she raised and tended a variety of birds and kept up a complicated regimen of treatments for her lupus. She also wrote diligently and often gave lectures about writing.

O’Connor published Wise Blood in 1952. The novel, which satirized American religious life, was criticized for being an affront to Christianity, but O’Connor’s talent did not go unnoticed. She published her first collection of short stories, A Good Man Is Hard to Find, in 1955 and 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 at age thirty-nine. Everything That Rises Must Converge, her second volume of short stories, was published posthumously in 1965. She also 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.

“A Good Man Is Hard to Find” is one of the most famous examples of Southern Gothic literature. Southern Gothic writing focuses on strange events, eccentric characters, and local color to create a moody and unsettling depiction of life in the American South. Southern history figures prominently, and stories usually draw upon the tragic history of slavery; lingering feelings of defeated regional pride after the Civil War; and isolated, often neglected locales. People, places, and events in Southern Gothic literature appear to be normal at first glance, but they eventually reveal themselves to be strange, disturbing, and sometimes horrific. Although she loathed the label, O’Connor was a master of the genre while simultaneously keeping a tone of realism in her novels and short stories. Her prose, for example, emphasizes the truths of her characters’ actions rather than their quirky peculiarities. Despite the often apocalyptic, surreal tone of her writing, her works always contain believable actions and choices. O’Connor grounds the story in reality by deemphasizing the eerie, disquieting tone of the backdrop and focusing instead on the relationships and events that drive the narrative.

Read more about the Southern Gothic genre with William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily.