University of Tulsa

Department of Special Collections & Archives

Tulsa, OK 74104

Collection: Flannery O’Connor Correspondence

Arrangement: Chronological.

The Flannery O’Connor Correspondence at the University of Tulsa consists of ninety-nine letters from O’Connor to Cecil Dawkins dating from May 1957 to June 1964. Dawkins, a college teacher at Stephens College in Missouri, is also a fiction writer.

O’Connor and Dawkins first became correspondents in 1957 when she wrote to O’Connor to tell her that her stories were being read by first-year students at Stephens College. O’Connor continued the correspondence and later served as a mentor to Dawkins, encouraging her to write and submit her stories to journals. The two shared common interests in the South, Catholicism, and literature. They also shared Elizabeth McKee as an agent for a period of time. Dawkins began questioning her Catholic faith in her correspondence with O’Connor, and eventually left the Church despite O’Connor’s encouragement to remain. The two met on several occasions and continued to correspond until O’Connor's death in 1964.

The collection at the University of Tulsa contains ninety-nine letters from O’Connor, sixty-four of which are published in The Habit of Being. In her letters, O’Connor discusses books she is reading and recommends authors and titles to Dawkins. She states in several letters that Caroline Gordon has been of great help to her as a mentor and remarks that she is glad that she can, in turn, act as a mentor to Dawkins. Most of O’Connor’s criticism of Dawkins’s work is encouraging; O’Connor mentions throughout her correspondence with Dawkins that she does not want to be too critical and thus discourage her or others from writing.

The collection contains a few letters in which O’Connor goes though passages of Dawkins’s work line-by-line and suggests changes. She sympathizes with Dawkins’s difficulties in trying to teach and still find time to write, but emphasizes the importance of setting time aside every day to write. There is some discussion in the correspondence about the advantages and disadvantages of writing a novel over short stories and how best to choose an appropriate story title. O’Connor instructs Dawkins on how to incorporate dialect in her writing style, discover “point of view,” and deal with criticism. O’Connor also shares information about journals and magazines that solicit stories; explains how their agent, Elizabeth McKee, earns her commissions; and gives Dawkins advice about dealing with McKee. She also writes about her experience at Yaddo and encourages Dawkins to write to the director, Elizabeth Ames, to apply for residency. O’Connor eventually granted Dawkins permission to adapt her story “The Displaced Person” into a play, which opened at the American Place Theatre in New York in 1965 and played for a second time at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta in 1998.

After Dawkins began to publish, O’Connor began to write more about her own work. She mentions problems she is encountering in her writing and discusses criticism she was receiving from Caroline Gordon. In one portion of their correspondence, O’Connor discusses “The Partridge Festival” and changes she was making to the story. She also writes about the introduction she is writing for the second edition of Wise Blood and problems she has had with corrections and misprints in stories she had sold to journals for publication.

The correspondence reveals that O’Connor often shared her Catholic beliefs with Dawkins. She refers her writings about the Catholic Church, discusses differences between people who are born into the Church and those who convert, and shares her views on the grace of God and the fall of man. In several letters O’Connor responds at length to Dawkins with concerns related to the teachings of the Catholic Church: faith, sin, original sin, grace, natural mysteries and miracles, birth control, the Immaculate Conception, and the priesthood.

Throughout the correspondence O’Connor mentions many aspects and events in her personal life, including visits and occurrences at Andalusia; conferences she was attending; and memories and thoughts about Peabody High School and Georgia State College for Women. She discusses letters from writers and fans, including inmates; her battle with lupus and having to use crutches; her feelings about being interviewed; her mother’s (Regina Cline O’Connor) thoughts about her writing; various purchases (e.g., a vacuum cleaner, a car, and an electric typewriter); her plans to travel to Rome; the paintings she painted for display in her house; and local events in Milledgeville.

O’Connor eventually introduced her friend Betty Hester (“A” in The Habit of Being) to Dawkins. She mentions that Hester liked Dawkins’s writing and makes reference to Hester throughout the correspondence with Dawkins.