Flannery O’Connor Archive

The Power of Predation in Literature

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I woke to find the cougar curled at the foot of my bed. Or, at least, I thought I did. I accidentally bumped the sleeping cat with my foot. He rose with a gleam in his eye, arched his back in a dramatic stretch. Heat emanated from his hyper-muscular

Back to School Special: Thoughtful Imitation

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I didn’t study creative writing as an undergraduate; it wasn’t an option. When I enrolled in the MFA program at University of Washington, what I craved more than workshop (which I’d experienced a few times in continuing education settings) was the elusive “craft” class: reading analytically not to make

The Ploughshares Round-Down: The Calvary Film and the Purpose of Art

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“[T]he barrier between one’s self and one’s knowledge of oneself is high indeed. There are so many things we would rather not know! — James Baldwin John Michael McDonagh’s film Calvary begins with priest Father James (played by Brendan Gleeson) preparing to hear an unseen confessor. The confessor reveals that as

The Things I Haven’t Read

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Legend had it that a famous scholar of nineteenth century American literature visited my college to lecture, and someone asked him a question about Melville. He began his answer with “While I’ve never read Moby-Dick…” At this remove, I still question the man’s scholarship and sanity—but I do admire his

Finding the Essential in the Literary Midwest

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About a year ago I was invited to participate on a panel of writers to talk about how being a Midwesterner fits into my life as a writer. It was a tough question. I was raised in Illinois, but had just finished a five-year stint in Texas and was

From the Slush Pile: Don’t Fall Flat

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Alfred Hitchcock says, “Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.”  That is absolutely true for the stories that are being passed on to editors. It is your job to tell the story but get rid of the boring bits. A reader wants to travel seamlessly from scene

Mother-Reader

Author: | Categories: Reading, Writing 3 Comments
In retrospect, I did everything wrong when I opened Emma Donoghue’s excellent story collection Astray. I didn’t check the author notes explaining the origins of each piece. I didn’t note the time: midnight. It didn’t occur to me that in a collection chronicling historical moments, there might be violence,

From the Slush Pile: Don’t Leave Me Hanging

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  Monday morning, two days post-AWP, your 2013 Boston Tote Bag filled with literary swag: postcards, pins, temporary tattoos, and journals. You have a renewed energy. Yes, this is the year. You will submit—over and over again if necessary—and you will get published. For those of you who have never

From the Slush Pile…

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It seems clear that what you all want to know is, “How do I get published in Ploughshares?” So, lets start at the beginning. Literally. If you want to get out of the slush pile, one of the worst things you can do is write a lackluster first paragraph. Don’t

Gatekeepers Part Four-point-Two: in defense of “telling” and sentimental preachiness

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Two winters ago, brand-new to the creative writing community of Madison, Wisconsin, I was at ground zero of the national debate on union rights, caught in a throng of 70,000 protestors marching around the State Capitol, screaming “Whose Streets? Our Streets!,” “This Is What Democracy Looks Like!,” and “It’s