ONE OF THE faulty stereotypes about Savannah is that it’s insular and not open to outsiders.
On the contrary, history shows us that the opposite is often true: Savannah tends to put outsiders on a pedestal while chronically undervaluing the contributions of its own people.
For instance, native daughter Flannery O’Connor is widely considered one of the seminal figures in American literature. Long before Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was a gleam in the eye of New York writer John Berendt, O’Connor’s work already fully embodied what would later be known as the “Savannah mystique”: eccentricity, intellectualism, the interface of Catholicism and Protestantism, the blend of the sacred and the profane, the undercurrent of violence.
Flannery O’Connor’s work will be studied as long as there is an English language. Yet within her home town she’s not widely known, nor promoted by the powers–that–be as a draw for visitors.
Indeed, O’Connor gets far less press than Florence Martus, the “Waving Girl,” whose only claim to fame was compulsively waving things at passing ships for years on end — behavior which would likely get you put on medication today.
(Though I feel sure that O’Connor would appreciate that darkly humorous irony.)
The Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home on Charlton Street works hard to change that imbalance. You can visit the Home itself for free this Super Museum Sunday from noon-4 p.m.
This weekend they present an art auction at the gallery 1704Lincoln to benefit the home, a show featuring contributions by some of Savannah’s most beloved artists. Not just any old art show and auction, however — every submission had to be inspired by O’Connor or illustrate some aspect of her work.
The Home even handed out collections of O’Connor short stories to artists this past fall in order to inspire and inform them.
O’Connor had a particularly profound effect on local photographer Meryl Truett.
“I’ve always been a fan of Flannery O’Connor,” Truett says. “She sort of brought us to Savannah.”
Truett and her husband John were in a book club in Nashville while they lived there. The club decided to take a literary trip to Savannah and to Milledgeville, the location of O’Connor’s farm Andalusia, where she did most of her writing.
“John and I just said, wow, we love Savannah, and so we moved here,” Truett recalls. “Since then we’ve been really involved with the Flannery O’Connor Home, going to benefits and readings and other events there.”
A South Carolina native, Truett says she was “always influenced by Flannery’s idea of the South as a religious bastion. All of her stories are somehow about redemption and repentance.”
Truett submitted a couple of quasi-religious themed entries to the auction. But one non-religious entry, a photo of a dirt road transferred onto an antique ceiling tile, was inspired by a specific O’Connor story.
“I wanted to find that quintessential Georgia dirt road, based on A Good Man Is Hard to Find. There’s that pivotal point in the story when the father decides to give in to the children yelling at the grandmother to go find this plantation,” Truett says.
“I went all over Milledgeville trying to find that perfect dirt road.”
Truett says the most unique thing about this weekend’s auction and show is “they’re trying to get people back to the text as well as spreading the word that she was born here and grew up here. It was a fun assignment.”
Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home presents “Southern Discomfort: Art Inspired by Flannery O’Connor,” at 1704Lincoln, 1704 Lincoln St. Preview hours Feb. 2, 4–7 p.m. and Feb. 3, 2–5 p.m. Exhibit and silent auction will take place Feb. 3 from 6–9 p.m. with silent auction closing at 8:30 p.m. Events free and open to the public. Other participating artists include Marcus Kenney, Betsy Cain, Katherine Sandoz, Tobia Makover, Laura Adams, Todd Schroeder, Gerome Temple, Preston Orr, Blanche Powers and Jack Metcalf.
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Thanks, Jim, for my new campaign slogan.