Emory Report
September 10, 2007
Volume 60, Number 3

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September 10, 2007
Flannery O'Connor exhibit debuts with dramatic reading of author's letters


The distinctive Southern voice of Georgia writer Flannery O’Connor will once again come to life on Tuesday, Sept. 25, when Atlanta actress Brenda Bynum gives an encore performance of her popular reading of the famed author’s letters to Betty Hester. The reading, set for 6 p.m. at Emory’s Schwartz Center for Performing Arts, is part of a two-day celebration kicking off the first public exhibition of the correspondence between the famed author and her fan.

The exhibit, titled “Dear Miss Hester: Letters from Flannery O’Connor to Betty Hester, 1955–1964,” will run from Sept. 22 to Dec. 28 in Emory’s Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library, on the 10th floor of Woodruff Library. In addition to letters and manuscripts drawn from MARBL’s collection, the exhibit includes photographs, books and other memorabilia that tell the story of O’Connor’s life and art.

Hester, a reclusive Atlanta file clerk, carried on a voluminous correspondence with O’Connor. She donated more than 250 of the author’s letters to Emory in 1987, with the stipulation that they couldn’t be viewed until 20 years later.

William Sessions, a leading O’Connor scholar who knew both the author and Hester, has referred to the documents as “probably the most important collection of letters in American literature in the latter part of the century.”

The two friends discussed major events of the time — such as the lunch-counter sit-ins and the larger civil rights movement — and their thoughts on religious philosophy and leading literary figures. O’Connor also wrote to Hester about day-to-day life at Andalusia, the farm near Milledgeville, Georgia, where she lived.
“These letters are written to a personal confidant,” said Bynum, who gave an initial theatrical reading of the letters when they were officially unsealed in May. “O’Connor lets her hair down and says what she thinks, including funny cracks about people who would come to visit. Delivery is everything in comedy and she was a great raconteur.”

Events surrounding MARBL's Sept. 22-Dec. 28 exhibit of O'Connor's letters include:
• Theatrical reading of O'Connor's letters by Brenda Bynum on Tuesday, Sept. 25 at 6 p.m. in the Schwartz Center.

• “Andalusia: Photographs by Nancy Marshall,” an exhibit focusing on the Georgia dairy farm where O'Connor lived, running Sept. 25–Oct. 30 at Emory's Visual Arts Gallery.

• A day-long campus symposium titled "The Prophet's Country," on Wednesday, Sept. 26, at 11 a.m. in the Jones Room of Woodruff Library. The symposium includes panel discussions and a talk by Ralph Wood, professor of theology and literature at Baylor University. It will conclude with a screening of the film "Wise Blood" at 7:30 p.m.

For more information, call 404-727-7620, or visit