Flannery O’Connor lived a life short on years but long on artistic intensity—she was a child of the pre-World War II Deep South, and her morally biting and unflinching stories and novels have often led her work to be described as “Gothic” and “grotesque.” Might as well own it: Her Complete Stories also won the National Book Award for fiction in 1972 eight years after her death, which came short of her 40th birthday.
O’Connor herself said that a Southern writer who trafficked in the grotesque was inevitably going to be tagged “realistic” by Northern sensibilities, and she was on to something. She was a staunch Catholic, and wrote about flawed and sometimes violent characters behind a veil of allegory that could incorporate shades of the Biblical—and it was part of her immense power that her writing about the aftermath of slavery, and the brutality of ignorance, was done with grace and subtlety worthy of the complexity of America itself.
The Soap Factory and the Walker have co-commissioned Wise Blood, based on O’Connor’s first novel. It’s described as an “immersive opera” that brings together visual art, musical compositions, singers, rockers, and multi-discipline performance in service to a story of a war veteran who enters an evocative world of con men, ministers, hypocrisy, and summer storms—the gothic edge of To Kill a Mockingbird meets True Detective. In addition to the show, a visual art exhibit based on Wise Blood is currently up in the Soap Factory space free of charge through June 14.