In 1945, at age nineteen, Flannery O’Connor left her home in Milledgeville, Georgia, to study journalism on scholarship at the University of Iowa. For the relatives who thought she’d rush back to the family dairy farm in a few weeks, she devoted a single word in her diary: “Humph!” It was apt. Not long into her first courses in magazine advertising and political ideas, she approached the poet Paul Engle in his office. When he couldn’t make out the sentences she spoke in her syrupy accent, he passed her a pad and pencil. “My name is Flannery O’Connor,” she wrote. “I am not a journalist. Can I come to the Writer’s Workshop?”

Iowa and Engle proved transformative. “I didn’t really start to read until I went to Graduate School and then I began to read and write at the same time,” she later wrote to a friend. Fellow students...

 
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