This week, the Francis and Ann Curran Center for American Catholic Studies officially received an endowment granted by the Flannery O’Connor Trust, which will establish the Curran Center and Fordham as an internationally recognized center for Flannery O’Connor studies, said Angela Alaimo O’Donnell, Ph.D., acting director of the Curran Center.
“We are delighted to be afforded this opportunity to serve as stewards of the endowment and to promote the work of America’s most distinguished Catholic writer,” said Alaimo O’Donnell, “and to help shape the future of Catholic literary studies.”
The Curran Center’s application was one of several submitted when the trust conducted a search for a university or center for Catholic studies to house the endowment. The application was accepted last December, and a formal agreement was signed on May 15.
The nearly $450,000 in funds—$50,000 a year for nine years—will allow the Curran Center to sponsor conferences, symposia, and other events that promote scholarship devoted to O’Connor and to Catholic writers who have left a mark on the American canon. A portion of the money will be used for programming while the remaining funds will continue to build the endowment.
Alaimo O’Donnell said trustees of the estate were impressed with the Curran Center’s work promoting Catholic writers, particularly last year’s conference, “The Future of the Catholic Literary Imagination,” which featured 60 Catholic writers and attracted 400 attendees, and the 2012 symposium, “Still Alive at 60: Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood.”
For her part, Alaimo O’Donnell, has delved deep into the Catholic legacy of O’Connor in her book, Flannery O’Connor: Fiction Fired by Faith (Liturgical Press, 2015). She said that O’Connor has served as a gateway to literature for many Catholics who might not otherwise have found their way to the rich body of work written by Catholics. She described O’Connor as a Southern and Catholic writer, though not particularly influenced by her Irish heritage. The author’s work and life are also of great interest in the field of disabilities studies, Alaimo O’Donnell said, since she was diagnosed with lupus at the age of 26. She would die of the disease 13 years later.
“She lived with the daily reality of death; she lived the cross,” said Alaimo O’Donnell. “She wrote like her life depended on it, because it did. Writing kept her alive.”
The disease forced O’Connor to abandon the social aspects of her fledgling career, which included a post-graduate fellowship at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a residency at Yaddo, the famed artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, New York.
In the course of her career she would complete two novels and 31 short stories, most famously “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” She also wrote hundreds of letters, several to well-known literary figures, including her friend Robert Lowell and poet Elizabeth Bishop, and many to people who were not so well known, like Elizabeth Hester, a file clerk who admired O’Connor’s work. The letters were compiled after her death in a book titled The Habit of Being.
“She knew she was good,” said Alaimo O’Donnell. “Some writers stumble around trying to find their subject and their voice, but not O’Connor. Even in her letters she knew she was writing for posterity.”