Episode 123

Flannery O’Connor’s Heathen Rage with Jessica Hooten Wilson and Steve Prince

Published on: 18th April, 2024

Learn more about the Human Pilgrimage conference.

Learn more about Steve Prince's work.

Learn more about Jessica Hooten Wilson's work.

A disgruntled white southern intellectual named Walter lives on his family's farm. They all think his fancy learning makes him good for nothing. On top of that, Walter thinks he's dying. Walter decides to pretend, through a penpal relationship with a social justice activist, that he is Black. A story unfolds from the deceit. This is a Flannery O'Connor story that you have probably never read, and we'll discuss it today on the podcast.

Unlike Flannery's other works, a conversion and baptism come early in this story, and the rest of the book, which was never finished, was intended to ask, "What next?" Instead of the one fell swoop of the Holy Ghost readers are used to, what does the radical work of grace look like over time?

Fragments of the unfinished novel have just been released, along with context-setting essays and commentary, by literary scholar and writer, Jessica Hooten Wilson. The book is called Why Do the Heathen Rage?, and it is further illuminated with powerful artwork by artist Steve Prince.

The story fragments are fascinating, but the gloss Steve and Jessica provide help us unpack what's going on with Flannery. Sorry megafan, but she was not a saint. And in this broken text, we actually watch her come up against her limits as a white southerner of her times and as a writer. What was she doing? What, maybe, was God doing? And what can we learn from her today? 

We discuss O'Connor's work, intersections with Malcolm X and James Baldwin, what stories do to harm or heal, and what art and artistic collaborations make possible. 

Dr. Jessica Hooten Wilson is the Fletcher Jones Endowed Chair of Great Books at Pepperdine University. She is the author or editor of several books, including Flannery O’Connor’s Why Do the Heathen Rage? A Behind-the-Scenes Look at a Work in Progress, Reading for the Love of God, and two award-winning books of literary scholarship: The Scandal of Holiness, and Giving the Devil His Due: Demonic Authority in the Fiction of Flannery O’Connor and Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Steve A. Prince is a mixed media artist, master printmaker, lecturer, educator, and art evangelist with his MFA in Printmaking and Sculpture from Michigan State University. He is the Director of Engagement and Distinguished Artist in Residence at the Muscarelle Museum at William and Mary. A native of New Orleans, he currently resides in Williamsburg, Virginia. 

Now pour yourself a big ol' glass of sweet tea and hold on to your rocking chair. This exploration of Flannery O'Connor won't be what you're used to. We hope you enjoy the conversation.

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About the Podcast

The Living Church Podcast
The Living Church Podcast explores ecumenical topics in theology, the arts, ethics, pastoral care, and spiritual growth — all to equip and encourage leaders in the Episcopal Church, Anglican Communion, and beyond. A ministry of the Living Church Institute.