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April 11, 2024 — You might be familiar with the American Catholic novelist, Flannery O’Connor. You might have read her short stories in a class, maybe “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” or “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” to name a few. You might have even read one of her novels, an essay or two or some of her letters. You might know that she spent much of her relatively short life in Georgia. And, if you know her work well, then you also know that she died in 1964.

And so, you might be really surprised to learn that she published her third novel, “Why Do the Heathen Rage?” earlier this year. Well, to be clear, the renowned O’Connor scholar and Fletcher Jones Endowed Chair of Great Books at Pepperdine University and today’s guest, Dr. Jessica Hooten Wilson did.

Dr. Wilson has been working on this project—uncovering O’Connor’s notes and drafts—for several years now. And the final result is quite stunning: While the book isn’t really a full and final novel—O’Connor died before she could finish it—what Jessica Hooten Wilson gives us is a literary excavation of Flannery’s life, legacy and the story that might have been.

Now, if you are familiar with O’Connor, you likely are also familiar with recent discourse about her thoughts and writing on race. Dr. Wilson does not shy away from addressing this sordid legacy head-on. In reflecting on this final, unfinished novel, Dr. Wilson notes that we really see Flannery coming up against her own limitations in understanding race in the American South. And yet, we also see her struggling to reconcile the clear racism of her day with her own Catholic faith. It’s not an easy conversation, but Dr. Wilson walks us through with care and grace.

If you are interested in learning more about her work, visit jessicahootenwilson.com and be sure to pick up your copy of “Flannery O’Connor’s Why Do the Heaten Rage? A Behind-the-Scenes Look at a Work in Progress,” now available from Brazos Press.

AMDG is a production of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States.

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