The acclaimed Southern American writer Flannery O'Connor has penned a moving meditation on the spiritual quest for prayer. Anna Heyward reflects on her yearning in The Australian.
A Prayer Journal
By Flannery O'Connor
Edited by WA Sessions
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 112pp, $30.95 (HB)
'Can't anyone teach me to pray?' Flannery O'Connor asks. This question is almost the same as 'Can't anyone teach me to write?' The 20-year-old O'Connor spent two years at the Iowa Writers Workshop trying to answer those questions. During that time, she kept a journal of prayers. In this elegant little book, the transcript of the 31 journal pages she wrote between January 1946 and September 1947 is followed by a facsimile of her actual notebook. Her journal was recently found by an old colleague of hers, William Sessions, who has edited and introduced it.
O'Connor, a Catholic from the US state of Georgia, is now one of the great southern writers, the author of A Good Man is Hard to Find and Everything that Rises Must Converge. She died at 39 of lupus, a sad ending that is foreshadowed by one line in this journal: 'looking back I have suffered, not my share, but enough to call it that, but there's a terrific balance due'.
Her two novels and 31 short stories are taught in the American creative writing schools that colonised the 20th century, and that she helped to make famous (Iowa was one of the first dedicated writing schools of its kind), but you don't need to have read O'Connor's fiction to enjoy this slim little book.
It may be brief and fragmented, but A Prayer Journal carries the weight of a lot of feeling. First, there is all the anxiety of an obsessive young person trying to determine herself, and to become something difficult, a very good fiction writer. Her quest for spirituality is linked to this quest:
'I want very much to succeed in the world with what I want to do. I have prayed to You about this with my mind and my nerves on it and strung my nerves into a tension over it and said "oh God" and "please please".'
And: 'If I have to sweat for it, dear God, let it be in your service. I would like to be intelligently holy. I am a presumptuous fool, but maybe the vague thing in me that keeps me in is hope.'
REVIEW IN FULL
Heartfelt search for a writer's grace (The Australian)