The University of Iowa

The Passion of Flannery O’Connor

This week Farrar Straus Giroux released A Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor. Composed of O’Connor’s journal entries between January of 1946 and September of 1947, the ruled notebook that contained these prayers was written entirely during the author’s time at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Though originally enrolled in Journalism, after her first term O’Connor sought out Paul Engle to request a place in the Workshop. She was accepted and completed her MFA in 1947.

One of the most famous writers to come out of the program, Flannery O’Connor was hailed for the wit and severe religiosity of her works. The Journal, though, shows the more meek and self-conscious side of her talent. Both self-deprecating and joyous, O’Connor entreats God to help her get something published, to help her imagine heaven, and to help her want to want Him. While apologizing for not reciting the prayers that she was raised to recite, O’Connor asks for better words with which to praise.

In one entry she writes, “There is a whole sensible world around me that I should be able to turn to Your praise; but I cannot do it. Yet at some insipid moment when I may possibly be thinking of floor wax or pigeon eggs, the opening of a beautiful prayer may come up from my subconscious and lead me to write something exalted.”

Just under fifty pages, the twenty-year-old O’Connor boldly asks for literary success while simultaneously casting herself as a tool of God’s words, as her typewriter is to hers. A Prayer Journal would make an interesting read not only for devout Catholics, but also for any person endeavoring to write.