Flannery O’Connor and Robert Giroux: a Publishing Partnership

by Patrick Samway SJ, University of Notre Dame Press, 322pp, £38

In my academic position, I’m occasionally called upon to offer comments about my students’ novels and short stories to editors and agents. To my shame, I have yet to manage a summary as brilliant as that offered by the creative writing professor Caroline Gordon to Robert Giroux, who was the Catholic novelist and short-story writer Flannery O’Connor’s editor, about her former student: “She is, of course, writing about the kind of stuff people like to read nowadays: about freaks.”

That many people liked reading about “freaks” in the 1950s (this is much less true today: indeed, including a few freaks in your novel would be one of the swiftest routes into the bin) is one of several worthwhile revelations in Patrick Samway’s book.

Joint (or group) biographies are becoming increasingly popular and generally welcome, especially when they allow the author to find a new angle on an overfamiliar life. But there are some pitfalls in this particular combination.

It is not immediately apparent that we need to know about Giroux to understand O’Connor, especially in a period when we are generally keener to hear about female authors then male gatekeepers. While there have been many cases where an editor has contributed so much to an author’s work that they seem an essential part of the creative process – as with, for example, Raymond Carver and Gordon Lish – this does not appear to be the case with Flannery O’Connor.

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