Friday, November 14, 2003

A Reason to Write: Four Catholic Novelists

Flannery O'Connor once wrote, "I feel that if I were not a Catholic, I would have no reason to write, no reason to see, no reason ever to feel horrified or even to enjoy anything." Inspired by this passage, the Center sponsored a lecture series this November on the work of Flannery O'Connor and her fellow Southern Catholic writer, Walker Percy. The lecture series was conceived and organized both by and for Notre Dame undergraduates, spearheaded by the Center's undergraduate assistant, Jennie Bradley. The series, entitled "A Reason to Write: Two Catholic Novelists," was held November 10-13 in Debartolo Hall at Notre Dame.

Ralph Wood, professor of theology and literature at Baylor University, kicked off the weeklong series with a talk on "Why Jesus Throws Everything Off Balance: Flannery O'Connor and Catholic Culture." Professor Wood recounted a number of anecdotes about O'Connor's life and cited passages from her letters to fans and friends to give an insightful reflection on her works of fiction. It was a great introduction to O'Connor for many in the audience who were unfamiliar with her, and it shed new light on her fiction for those already well-versed in her works.

The second lecture, "Just Another Wednesday Afternoon: Walker Percy and the Faith," was delivered by Benjamin Alexander, professor of English and the humanities at Franciscan University of Steubenville. Prof. Alexander came to Notre Dame straight from Percy's hometown of Covington, La., where he had just spoken at the 12th Annual Walker Percy Symposium. Professor Alexander gave a biography of Percy and examined the literary and philosophical influences of his works, in particular Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus and James Joyce.

Larry Cunningham, John A. O'Brien Professor of Theology at Notre Dame, delivered the third talk on Flannery O'Connor: "Fiction as Theology," in which he discussed some of the theological concepts that shaped O'Connor's sacramental imagination. The week closed with personal reflections from Robert Ellsberg, editor in chief of Orbis Books, in a talk entitled, "Strangers and Pilgrims: Spiritual Travels with Flannery O'Connor and Walker Percy." Mr. Ellsberg recounted his time spent working in New York City with Dorothy Day and his awakening to the Catholic faith through his reading of O'Connor and Percy. The lecture series was a great success, well-attended by undergraduates.

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