Written by Craig Amason
During her productive years as a writer, from 1951 until her untimely death from debilitating Lupus in 1964, American author Flannery O'Connor spent the majority of her time at Andalusia, her family's farm in Milledgeville, Georgia, where she penned both novels and collections of short stories.
O'Connor stands among the exalted ranks of deceased authors whose books do not go out of print, whose sales get better with time, and whose reputations continue to grow. She is widely anthologized, and high school and college literature textbooks usually include several of her stories. Her life and work are the topics of conferences, newsletters, and journals all over the world. The Flannery O'Connor Review, published in Milledgeville at her alma mater, Georgia College, is the longest running journal devoted to a female author in the country. There have been two international conferences devoted to O'Connor in Denmark, one in France in 2005, and another in Rome, Italy in 2009. Another major conference is scheduled for April 13-16, 2011 in Milledgeville.
Since O'Connor's death, Milledgeville has become the haven for an increasing number of visitors wanting to know more about one of the most widely respected fiction writers in American literature. Since opening for regular tours in 2004, Andalusia has welcomed more than 24,000 visitors from at least twenty different countries and every state in the United States. Stories and articles about Andalusia appear regularly in newspapers and magazines around the country, including the New York Times and the Washington Post. Seeing the room where O'Connor wrote much of her work has a profound effect on visitors, as they often testify in letters, emails, and cards to the Flannery O'Connor - Andalusia Foundation, the nonprofit organization that owns and operates the site.
To date, the foundation has completed exterior repairs on the main house and fully-restored three additional structures on the property. Now, a 2010 Save America's Treasures grant from the National Park Service will make possible the most ambitious project at Andalusia to date -- the restoration of the Hill house. This 19th-century structure was the home of Jack and Louise Hill, African-American farm workers at Andalusia during the period of O’Connor’s residence.
Fans of the author will know the Hills from her published letters, The Habit of Being. These real people, their relationships, and their activities on the farm served as inspiration for characters, plots and themes throughout O’Connor’s fiction. The Hill house is an excellent example of the Plantation Plain-style and the oldest standing structure on the property. An important part of the Andalusia complex, it contributes greatly to the interpretation of the site, and to understanding mid-twentieth century farm life in middle Georgia. But its condition is severely threatened. Save America’s Treasures’ federal investment and its required match will provide much needed support, and leverage significant private investment, to restore this structure for the education of students of all ages.
Andalusia is unquestionably the place most associated with O'Connor's life and work. Her mother, Regina O’Connor, operated the farm as a dairy during the 1950s. Today, the site provides invaluable insight into the environment of Flannery O'Connor's productive life. Guests are reminded of O'Connor's fictional settings and characters as they tour the farm complex. Andalusia is not just the place where O'Connor wrote - it clearly inspired much of what she wrote. And with the preservation of the Hill house, Andalusia will offer an even better understanding of Flannery O’Connor, her personal relationships and home life, for the thousands of people from across the state and around the world who visit each year.
Craig Amason is the executive director of The Flannery O’Connor-Andalusia Foundation in Milledgeville, GA.