Dear Ms. O’Connor

The moment when a newly published author receives their first fan mail is a unique milestone in the life of a writer. It is tangible proof that their work has an audience, that it is being appreciated, or, at the very least, has made an impact whether positive or negative. After all, writing can be a solitary task and there is nothing quite as authentic and responsive as fan mail to signal that someone is engaging with a writer’s work. Nevertheless, the direct reader-to-writer element of fan mail can be both a blessing and a curse. How an individual responds to literature is subjective and can elicit strong and peculiar reactions. Flannery was no stranger to receiving her fair share of odd fan mail. In fact, because of the nature of her stories, she joked that it was no surprise that she seemed to attract “the lunatic fringe.”[1]

Flannery O’Connor at a signing event for Wise Blood at Georgia College, 1952. (Andalusia Collection: 2019.1.185)

The type of fan mail that Flannery received was as unpredictable and quirky as the writer herself. The assortment of people who sent her letters ranged from rural Georgia readers to “irate Catholics,”[2] from up north, like a Mrs. N of Boston. Flannery’s response to opinionated naysayers was typical of her wry sense of humor. She wrote to her friend and poet Alice Morris about her correspondence with Mrs. N “. . .[her] letter is probably not unlike those you have received. I’d like it back as I guess there will be other Mrs. N.’s that I will have to write to in the future. I don’t deserve any credit for turning the other cheek as my tongue is always in it.”[3] Besides disgruntled fellow Catholics, she also wondered if she would get any complaints from “pious atheists.”[4]

Flannery “cherish[ed]”[5] the fan mail that she received and took care to personally write back to the people who wrote to her. Flannery seemed to understand that the response to her stories often came with an extra helping of passion and likened the host of personalities who sent her fan mail to “people I might have made up.”[6] Such as the response that came from a couple of young men, theological students at Alexandria, who had read Wise Blood and chose to inform Flannery that she now had the honor of being their new pin-up girl.[7] Others were like the one she received from a young man in Eureka, California:

My latest communication from the Lunatic Fringe has come from . . . a young man who is starting a new literary magazine to be called “HEARSE: a magazine to convey the dead. It will appear three times a year and convey stories, poems, reviews, and art-work to the great Cemetery of the American Intellect.” He’s going to have a section, however, called “The Quick,” for which he requested I write a comment on why I writer. I have just written him that I would hesitate to assume myself quick if everybody else is dead. Anyway, I ain’t that depressed about the American Intellect.[8]

Often her fan mail consisted of requests for Flannery to read their manuscripts or to “collaborate” on stories together. Of this kind of fan mail she warned, “you have to be careful about whose manuscripts you read because if you get a similar idea yourself later and work it up in your own way, the person is liable to think you stole it from him. I got a letter from a young man I had never heard of before and he announced blandly that he was writing stories which he thought were very much like mine and he wondered if I would read them.”[9]  Other times, her letters were more somber, as Flannery wrote in a letter to a friend, “my mail continues to arrive but by this time it is getting me down—another one from a mental institution . . .”[10]

The Jones Building (2017) at Central State Hospital in Milledgeville, Georgia, established in 1842. During O’Connor’s lifetime would grow exponentially and soon become the world’s largest mental institution until shuttering its doors in 2012.

Generally, Flannery was a good sport about the fan mail she received. She was eager to engage with her readers and desired to have stimulating conversations about her work. As is proven through her life in her letters to friends, colleagues, and family, Flannery had a voracious appetite for connection. It should come as no surprise that fans of her work are equally as driven to forge a connection with the writer.

[1] Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being, ed. Sally Fitzgerald, (New York, NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1988), 82.

[2] Ibid., 86.


[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 280.

[6] Ibid., 359.

[7] Ibid., 82.

[8] Flannery O’Connor, “Letters to Erik Langkjaer,” Asymptote, April 2015, Accessed December 14, 2020,

[9] O’Connor, The Habit of Being, 280.

[10] Ibid., 91.

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