Yesterday (on August 2) I viewed online the International Flannery O’Connor Conference marked with the legend “No Kind of Place: Location, Migration, and Imagination.” The conference was hosted virtually and theoretically by Nipissing University. The conference organizers and host did a fine job of amalgamating materials around topics. However, the pandemic extracted a toll. Participant cancellations abound and the preparedness of presenters was uneven. On the first day, some of the most thorough and best-presented papers came from outside of the community of instructors and researchers who bake their bread on the fire stoked by Mary Flannery O’Connor. Among these presenters Trotter and Gutherie were commendable.
I was anxious for a discussion comparing O’Connor and Marquez. The discussion of magical realism versus grotesquery was sometimes illuminating. Later, Dr. Gentry’s examination of amputation as a symbol provided a spark. O’Connor’s tales inspired treatment that evolved over a short but supercharged timespan with other notable writers picking up the theme. Flannery’s grotesquery has emerged flying the “freak flag” as popularized in the 1990s. The new age Freak is now branded as unique, proud, and as intentionally garish as Oates’ Trump Taj Mahal setting. She now flashes a neon sexuality.
I must apologize for asking a question the first panel was unable to answer: What will attract another generation of students to Flannery O’Connor? Dr. Gentry did see the attraction of Fundamentalist Christians to O’Connor. Off the panel, Dr. O’Donnell posted a comment that her students focus on the quirky humor found in Flannery and the allure of the bizarre. This latter facet was noted across the first panel. I may have framed my question poorly, but I fear for the prospects of another generation of O’Connor readers. There were no students apparent in virtual attendance or presenting at the conference. I’ll post again about the conference over the next week.