Flannery O'Connor was among the long list of venerated authors who expressed racist views.
While her racist slurs and opposition to black civil rights have long been documented, author Paul Elie in a June 22 New Yorker article accuses O'Connor's followers of seeking to evade her racism.
O'Connor's adherents have denied Elie's claims. Amy Alznauer, in a better argued article published by The Bitter Southerner, says that O'Connor's racism has long drawn fire from critical commentators.
Elie, who included O'Connor in his survey of Catholic writers "The Life You Save May Be Your Own," asserts that O'Connor's supporters try to justify her views with the dubious argument that she was a product of her times. But he overstates her native Georgia's racial progress in the last years of her life, when the state's opposition to segregation hardened.
Elie's article coincides with the publication of Angela Alaimo O'Donnell's "Radical Ambivalence: Race in Flannery O'Connor." Alznauer expresses outrage at Elie's cursory dismissal of O'Donnell's work.
Black authors like Alice Walker, Toni Morrison have condemned O'Connor's racism while admiring her fiction, Alznauer says.
As Elie points out, O'Connor like C.S. Lewis is one of those writers passionately followed because of her religious outlook. O'Connor's letters and essays with their spiritual reflections are as celebrated by many readers as her short stories and novels.
O'Connor's exalted position as a literary saint demands a reckoning with her racism, Elie says. He contrasts O'Connor with poet Philip Larkin, also exposed for casual racism.
"Unlike, say, the struggle over Philip Larkin, whose coarse, chauvinistic letters are at odds with his lapidary poetry, it’s not about protecting the work from the author; it’s about protecting an author who is now as beloved as her stories," Elie says.
An artist like O'Connor needs no such protection, no matter how condemnable her views.