Inspired (not for the last time) by O’Connor

On October 3, the English Department at the College of Charleston sponsored “Inspired by O’Connor,” an evening of art and music inspired by the fiction of Flannery O’Connor. Here are a few pictures at the historic Towell Library in Charleston. Here’s the link to an article in the student newspaper:

photo 1The Library

faculty student preparationsStudent/faculty preparations

downstairs set upThe set up

harrows 1The performance

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStudents viewing art on the balcony


This may have been my last musical collaboration directly related to O’Connor’s work. If so it was a rewarding finale, and I am very thankful to the College of Charleston English Department’s faculty and students, as well as to The Harrows.


While O’connor’s fiction continues to be an important inspiration,  The Harrows and I are pushing our respective arts in new directions. The Harrows are adding greater deviltry to their songs. I’m starting a new novel in pictures about the devil’s dressmaker who wanders southern back roads. She gathers stories and cuts them to size with her giant pinking shears. With a common interest in Southern Gothic, the Harrows and I will probably find new sources of intersection (more on this later).

dressmaker book cover copyDevil’s Dressmaker, design for a book cover


Before I move on, here’s one last piece of work (below) directly related to a Flannery O’Connor story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” It’s a good example of how I continue to reflect on O’Connor’s characters and their dilemmas but find myself pursuing them along new trajectories. In “A Good Man,” the young mother (figure on the right) is a wimpy secondary character who does little but die at the hand of an escaped convict.

Good Man


In my version, she looks more like a harlot wearing black lipstick and leopard skin boots.  There’s a festive, party quality, but she still seems doomed.

Her eyes are blank; she could be asleep, or passed out, or dead. On her head, she wears a bird like the one that patterns the man’s Hawaiian shirt (he is my version of O’Connor’s murderer, the Misfit). She holds a purple doll or a bruised child. The man seems to have some sort of hold over her since she leans toward him, but we’re not sure what it is; he’s inscrutable in reflective shades. Perhaps the bird in his hand is a crescent wrench, or a gilded weapon. The cat with the smoldering eye seems contented;  that’s a feather sticking out of his mouth.

None of this cat and bird business is in the original story. I think this version reflects my regret that the young woman wasn’t more of an active agent, wasn’t better equipped to pick up and act on indicators suggesting that she was in a dangerous situation and that she needed to act. I am sorry for her, so I dressed her up and made her a little more colorful, if still sad. Maybe I’m less interested in how some characters (like the grandmother in the story) strive for salvation in the worst of circumstances and more interested in how characters learn “street smarts” that enable them to recognize evil, push back hard, and run the other way.

Maybe my next work will explore this kind of street smarts.

About Lillian-Trettin

I grew up in the Appalachian "Bible Belt" of East Tennessee in the southern United States, listening to banjo music and gospel lyrics as well as the Beatles. As a kid, I was curious about religious rituals like speaking in tongues and snake handling but resistant to the fundamentalist thinking they involved. Flannery O'Connor's tales of religious fanatics, con men, bigots, and the spiritually bereft or ambivalent resonate for me. Despite having traveled widely and lived in other places, I am (as so many Southerners claim to be) permanently "South haunted." I returned to making art full time in 2011, following a career as a teacher, researcher, and consultant and after raising two sons. I’m convinced the delay enriched rather than impeded my growth as an artist.
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1 Response to Inspired (not for the last time) by O’Connor

  1. Beth Hannabass says:

    Always interested in seeing where you’ve been and where you’re going with this. I’ve found that ‘polite society’ and ‘feminine ideals’ have often gotten in the way of street smarts and recognizing/negotiating the rougher parts of life.

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