Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Flannery O'Connor and Iowa City as a City of Literature

I'm planning to do an interview with Brad Gooch and a review of his new biography, "Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor," in time for his March 5 reading at Prairie Lights.

I've been thinking that his reading might be as good a time as any for talking about how Iowa City should make use of its City of Literature designation. There are two chapters on O'Connor's time in Iowa City -- as well as two photos that I'm going to reproduce. But I'm struggling with how Iowa City can lay claim to O'Connor as a figure. Sure, her MFA thesis is in UI Special Collections, and sure we can mark the homes she lived here -- maybe even put up a marker on the exact spot in which Paul Engle had his little talk with her about the inaccuracy of her sex scenes. But we can't claim her in the same way that Milledgeville and Savannah can.

So, what claim can Iowa City make on her legacy? Other than celebrate O'Connor as an early writer who helped make the Workshop famous, what should a City of Literature Cultural Development Director (or Writer University Liaison or Iowa City Cultural Entrepreneur) be doing to build on (or even monetize) the city's connections to writers like O'Connor? How should UI Press be brought in? How should Prairie Lights be brought in? How should current Workshop faculty or the English Department be brought in? How should city governments be brought in?

I'd love to print some guest columns (up to 700 words) -- or even some shorter letters -- that would offer some possible answers to these and other questions. And if I could get responses by 9 a.m., Monday, March 2, I could put them on the same March 4 page with the Gooch interview and review.

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