Friday, August 20, 2010

Meeting: Michael Fitzgerald on the Courage of Flannery O'Connor

This coming week at the Meeting at Rimini, there will be an Anglo-American exhibit on the American fiction writer Flannery O'Connor (see also Traces 12:7).  Screenwriter Michael Fitzgerald accepted an invitation to give a presentation on O'Connor.  Fitzgerald, the son of O'Connor's close friends Sally and Robert Fitzgerald, persuaded director John Huston to produce the 1979 film Wise Blood, based on O'Connor's novel.  He wrote the screenplay together with his brother and raised the funding for the low-budget production. 

Fitzgerald is presenting on O'Connor's courage in living with lupus, the inherited illness which crippled her and took her life at age 39.  In an interview with Martino Cervo, he described her ironic outlook with the story that when she was six years old she taught a chicken to walk backwards.  Referring to the film, he said, "I was there with the chicken. I was just there to help, but it was the highlight of my life.  Everything that has happened since then has been an anti-climax."  He said:
The illness was the central event of her life.  At twenty years old, right after returning home after a stay with us, she had her first attack.  After that, it always accompanied her.  But the limitation on her talent was a springboard for her freedom.  There is one episode that explains better than anything else what I mean.  In the last moments of her life, at 39 years old, she sent a letter to my parents describing the food at the hospital:  she wrote of a terrible "stew that smelled like Kleenex".  She was dying...
 She would have deflected or laughed at the idea of being considered a great writer, which in fact happened.  She would have been horrified at the idea of promoting a particular artistic conception.  She was a great Catholic writer, her Catholicism and her sense of the absolute were completely at the center of everything she wrote.  And this is exactly what shocked the literary world, without them knowing it.  For example, there is no doubt about her influence on a giant like Cormac McCarthy.

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