Flannery O’Connor and Robert Giroux
A Publishing Partnership
By Patrick J. Samway, S.J.
“A close-up history of how this highly original writer’s fiction was discovered, published, and promoted.” —Michael Dirda, Washington Post
When Robert Lowell first introduced Flannery O’Connor to Robert Giroux in March 1949, even she could not have imagined the impact of that meeting on her life, and on the landscape of postwar American literature. Giroux acquired her first novel, Wise Blood (1952), for Harcourt, Brace; and after his move to the firm now known as Farrar, Straus & Giroux, he remained her friend and publisher for the rest of her all-too-brief life (she died just shy of forty, in 1964), with A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories (1955) and The Violent Bear It Away (1960), and with major posthumous publications including The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor (1961), Everything that Rises Must Converge (1965), Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose (1969), and The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O”Connor (ed. Sally Fitzgerald, 1979).
The written correspondence between O’Connor and Giroux stands as a testament of their mutual devotion, friendship, and admiration; and Flannery O’Connor and Robert Giroux: A Publishing Partnership sheds new light on a dimension of Flannery O’Connor’s life—her relationship with her editors—that has not been well documented or narrated by critics and biographers. Impressively researched and rich in biographical details, this book chronicles Giroux’s and O’Connor’s personal and professional relationship, not omitting their circle of friends and fellow writers, including Robert Lowell, Caroline Gordon, Sally and Robert Fitzgerald, Allen Tate, Thomas Merton, and Robert Penn Warren. As Patrick Samway explains, Giroux guided O’Connor along her path to international acclaim as writer of fiction and nonfiction, especially during the years when she suffered from lupus at her home in Milledgeville, Georgia, a disease that eventually proved fatal. Excerpts from their correspondence, some of which are published here for the first time, reveal how Giroux maintained his supportive presence as editor through his letters to Milledgeville. They are gracious, discerning, and appreciative, just when they needed to be. In Father Samway’s portrait of O’Connor as an extraordinarily dedicated writer and businesswoman, she emerges as savvy, pragmatic, focused, and determined. This engrossing account will interest O’Connor’s many devoted readers as well as students of the history of American literary publishing.
Patrick Samway, S.J., a former literary editor of America, the nation’s premier Catholic weekly, is an emeritus professor of English at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. He is the editor of The Letters of Robert Giroux and Thomas Merton (University of Notre Dame Press, 2015) and a forthcoming edition of Giroux’s correspondence with John Berryman. He is the author of Walker Percy: A Life (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1997), a New York Times Notable Book; and editor of Percy’s Signposts in a Strange Land: Essays (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1991) and A Thief of Peirce: The Letters of Kenneth Laine Ketner and Walker Percy (University Press of Mississippi, 1995). He is the editor, with Ben Forkner, of the noted two-volume anthology Stories of the Old South (1989; rev. ed. Penguin, 1995) and Stories of the Modern South (1977; rev. ed. Penguin, 1986). He is the author of Educating Darfur Refugees: A Jesuit’s Efforts in Chad (University of Scranton Press, 2007). Among his recent honors is the Newbridge Silver Award presented by the Gerard Manley Hopkins Society at their 30th annual Festival in Newbridge, Ireland, on July 23, 2017.
“Few letters can be more entertaining than Flannery O’Connor’s, many of which are quoted in Patrick Samway’s Flannery O’Connor and Robert Giroux: A Publishing Partnership, which offers a close-up history of how this highly original writer’s fiction was discovered, published, and promoted.” —Michael Dirda, Washington Post
“Samway (Educating Darfur Refugees: A Jesuit’s Efforts in Chad) is fastidious in this glimpse into the working relationship between author Flannery O’Connor and editor Robert Giroux. Samway’s analysis is thorough, utilizing other studies, copious correspondences, interviews, and O’Connor’s own “autobiographically inflected” works. The respective biographies are seamlessly welded together. Samway delves into O’Connor’s childhood, schooling, and protracted battle with lupus. He paints her as a constant student of writing, bolstered by the Catholic theology she would nurture through her life and by the tenets of new criticism that she absorbed at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. For Giroux, Samway briefly touches on the editor’s working-class Jersey City upbringing and Columbia education, but concentrates on his career at various publishing houses and dedication to helping O’Connor and his other authors through “intelligent criticism” and what he identified as the pillars of novel editing: “judgment, taste, and empathy.” Samway weaves an insightful account of how an uncommonly discerning editor helped guide a distinctive authorial voice to new literary heights.” —Publishers Weekly
“Among the merits of Patrick Samway’s new book is how very much history Samway brings to bear on the relationship between Flannery O’Connor and her editor and friend Robert Giroux. In his presentation, the story of their efforts together across fifteen years carries with it countless particulars from the literary history of their age—a history in which Robert Giroux can be seen more clearly than ever as a central figure.” —Paul Elie, author of The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage
“A masterful account of the literary and personal relationship between O’Connor the brilliant writer and Giroux the editor par excellence. Using a wide range of sources, Patrick Samway, S.J., situates both O’Connor and Giroux within a broad context of biographical, historical, cultural, and literary influences and traces their mutual development and growing friendship as it developed into an intimate editor/author partnership. Samway’s own skills as an editor—his impressive command of details, his judicious insights and judgments, his sensitivity to the challenges both figures faced in their careers—help create a nuanced narrative of two of the brightest literary presences of the twentieth century.” —John F. Desmond, author of Risen Sons: Flannery O’Connor’s Vision of History
“Patrick Samway, S.J., locates Flannery O’Connor in a new country—not in the South of her red clay roads and not in the realm of the Christian sacred but in the literary marketplace of writers, editors, and publishers. His work shows how O’Connor did not leave publication matters to accident or to the angels; rather, she collaborated happily with editor Robert Giroux to bring her writing into print. The book vividly and meticulously chronicles as never before the sheer busyness with which O’Connor pursued the business of publication.” —Gary Ciuba, author of Desire, Violence, and Divinity in Modern Southern Fiction: Katherine Anne Porter, Flannery O’Connor, Cormac McCarthy, Walker Percy
“Along with Shirley Jackson and Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor is a central figure in Southern Gothic literature, known best for her short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and novel Wise Blood. She was a client of publishers Farrar, Straus & Giroux from her second novel, The Violent Bear It Away, to her death in 1964, and Samway traces her development as an author, and the publication history of her work, through the letters of her editor Robert Giroux and her friend, the playwright Maryat Lee—all part of the Library’s Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. records.” —Meredith Mann, Librarian for Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books, The New York Public Library (Year in the Archival Research)