August 8 was a rainy day at Andalusia, Flannery O’Connor’s home in Milledgeville, Georgia. For any other occasion, thunder, lightning, shin-deep puddles, and flash flood warning sirens blaring from cell phones might be a bad omen, but for the ceremony celebrating the gifting of the farm from the Flannery O’Connor—Andalusia Foundation to Georgia College and State University, the weather seemed appropriate. “Everyone was whispering to themselves: ‘Flannery definitely arranged this,’” says former chair of the foundation, Donna Barwick. The only thing missing: one of the charming serial killers or fraudulent bible salesmen who populates the Southern Gothic writer’s thorny stories.
The gift was a result of years of financial struggles. Unlike most other writers’ legacies that are owned by a single heir, O’Connor’s estate was divided upon her death. The farm—where O’Connor spent the last thirteen years of her life writing and raising dozens of peacocks—was run by the foundation, but the literary rights and finances belong to the Mary Flannery O’Connor Charitable Trust. Because the trust has multiple O’Connor-related interests, the foundation struggled to raise enough money to maintain Andalusia. “We had income from hay farmers and hunters who would pay to use the land, but that would never be sufficient,” Barwick says.
Barwick approached GCSU—O’Connor’s alma mater, just four miles down the road—about a year ago, and the two parties came to an agreement to join forces in late spring. Along with professional staff and student interns, it is likely some foundation board members will stay on as advisors for the property. “We have put our trust in Georgia College,” Barwick says. “They have a good track record with the other historic sites they own.”
GCSU boasts an impressive list of historic sites maintained under Matt Davis, the College’s director of the Old Governor’s Mansion, the Sallie Ellis Davis House, and now Andalusia. “We want to restore [Andalusia] to the time period when Flannery lived there and create a learning opportunity for our students, while still providing full access to all visitors,” Davis says. “The historic fabric of the site is in really good shape, but it’s going to take some restoration.” A few other writers’ homes have also partnered with universities to aid funding: William Faulkner’s Oxford property, Rowan Oak, is owned by the University of Mississippi, for instance, and Amherst College owns Emily Dickinson’s Massachusetts home.
Now, GCSU will be able to consider such changes as installing air conditioning, building a visitor’s center, or hosting more community events to better preserve O’Connor’s legacy.
“People feel connected to O’Connor’s sense of place, which is why Andalusia has so much value to the literary community,” Barwick says. Under Georgia College’s ownership, scholars and fans will better be able to experience her stories in the very place they were written, and if the weather can be taken as a sign from beyond, O’Connor certainly approves.