News Release: Arts and Humanities, Events

Nov. 4,  2009

Emory to Celebrate 'The Habit of Being'

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To recognize the 30th anniversary of the publication of Flannery O'Connor's letters in Sally Fitzgerald's book "The Habit of Being," Emory Libraries is hosting "Habits of Being: Flannery O'Connor and Sally Fitzgerald," a program of special events scheduled Thursday, Nov. 5.

The celebration will include a panel discussion, a lecture by Washington Post book critic Jonathan Yardley and a dramatic reading from O'Connor's letters by Atlanta actress Brenda Bynum.

"The Habit of Being," published in 1979, is a collection of O'Connor's correspondence with a wide range of thinkers, poets, writers and theologians during her life. O'Connor, a Southern writer and native Georgian, lived with Sally and Robert Fitzgerald and their children on a farm in rural Connecticut in 1949 and 1950. The three had many discussions about their shared Catholic faith, and O'Connor remained close friends with the couple until her death in 1964.

"It was a groundbreaking book in terms of understanding the nature of Flannery O'Connor's work and the insights into her life that the letters provided - her personality, humor, relationships and beliefs," says author and O'Connor scholar Rosemary Magee, vice president and secretary of the university.

The plural "Habits" title of the celebration is a twist on the singular title of the book "in that Sally Fitzgerald and Flannery O'Connor inspired habits of thinking and writing - and therefore of being - in all of us," says Magee.

Fitzgerald, who compiled and edited "The Habit of Being," was a visiting research scholar at Emory in the 1980s and 1990s. She played an instrumental part in Emory Libraries' acquisition in 1987 of O'Connor's letters to Atlanta friend Betty Hester, which were kept closed according to Hester's instructions until 2007 (Hester was the anonymous A in some of the letters in "The Habit of Being"). Emory Libraries acquired Fitzgerald's papers in the winter of 2008; both collections are at the university's Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL).

"As Emory holds both O'Connor's letters to Betty Hester and the Sally Fitzgerald papers, it's very appropriate that Emory host a celebration of the 30th anniversary of this seminal work," says Naomi Nelson, interim director of MARBL.

The upcoming celebration involves interconnected events, says Magee - the 30th anniversary of "The Habit of Being," Fitzgerald's longtime relationship with Emory, her role in its acquisition of the Hester letters, and Emory's recent acquisition of Fitzgerald's papers.

Washington Post book critic and author Yardley, who reviewed "The Habit of Being" when it was first released in 1979 and again in 2005, will give a lecture titled "Flannery O'Connor's Last Masterpiece" in the Jones Room at Woodruff Library.

The day will conclude with a theatrical reading of O'Connor's letters to the Fitzgeralds, performed by Atlanta actress and Emory professor emeritus of theater studies Brenda Bynum. Bynum is well known for capturing O'Connor's humor, perceptions and accent in previous readings of the author's letters.

Nov. 5 Schedule of Events

Panel: "30th Anniversary of 'The Habit of Being': The Legacy of Sally Fitzgerald"
4 - 5 p.m.
Jones Room, Level 3 of the Woodruff Library, 540 Asbury Circle on the Emory campus, Atlanta 30322

  • Rosemary Magee, O'Connor scholar and vice president and secretary of the university, will serve as moderator;
  • Panelists will include:
    • William Sessions, a retired Georgia State University professor and a personal friend of O'Connor's;
    • Bruce Gentry, a faculty member at Georgia College & State University and editor of the Flannery O'Connor Review;
    • Elizabeth Chase, Woodruff Library Fellow; and
    • Lorraine Murray, author of the recently released book “The Abbess of Andalusia: Flannery O’Connor’s Spiritual Journey” and public services assistant in the Pitts Theology Library.


Lecture by Jonathan Yardley
: "Flannery O'Connor's Last Masterpiece"
5 - 6 p.m.
Jones Room, Level 3 of the Woodruff Library, 540 Asbury Circle on the Emory campus, Atlanta 30322


Reading by Brenda Bynum: "'Cheers and regards to children...' The Letters of Flannery O'Connor to Robert and Sally Fitzgerald"
7:30 - 9:30 p.m.
Cannon Chapel, 515 Kilgo Circle on the Emory campus, Atlanta 30322


Additional Event Information

Additional sponsors of the celebration include Creativity: Art and Innovation (a component of the university's strategic plan), the Hightower Fund of Emory College and the Provost's Luminaries Series.

These events are open to the public at no charge. For more information, contact Denise Funk, 404.727.6887. 

Originally posted Oct. 14, 2009

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