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Short Story Collection Review    

 

 

After O'Connor: Stories from Contemporary Georgia
Edited By Hugh Ruppersburg
University of Georgia, 2003
Paperback, $19.95 (375 pages)
ISBN: 0-8203-2557-0
 
 
 

Hugh Ruppersburg's latest collection of Georgia literature displays the diverse voices of contemporary Georgia.  But After O'Connor diverges significantly from other collections of "regional" literature.  In part due to the rapid changes (economic, demographic, and cultural) that have occurred in Georgia since Flannery O'Connor's death in 1964, Ruppersburg explains in the "Introduction" to After O'Connor, "[w]hat it means to be a 'regional' writer, or a writer from Georgia or from any other state, has changed fundamentally."  Atlanta has become a world city, home to thousands of people from Latin America and Asia; Ruppersburg's anthology of short stories asks readers to rethink ideas of belonging to a place: who can contribute to Georgia literature? Southern literature? 

Rupersburg's collects writers who have "written and lived in Georgia for a significant period of time" for After O'Connor, creating a global mosaic of Georgia literature.  After O'Connor includes Janice Daugharty (of Valdosta) and Scott Ely (Atlanta); Pearl Cleage (Springfield, Massachusetts) and Greg Johnson (San Francisco, California); as well as Ha Jin (Liaoning, China) and Judith Ortiz Cofer (Puerto Rico).  In one respect, then, After O'Connor is a "regional" anthology--the literature is from Georgia. But it is also a global anthology. 

The stories reflect the diversity of Georgia and are very often examples of the finest writing happening in America in our time.  The anthology is at its best and will satisfy readers' desires for stories "from Georgia" when it brings the power and skill of contemporary Georgia's finest authors to the scene of these writers' homes.  Michael Bishop's "The Road Leads Back" is set in Georgia and Alabama and evocatively tells of hope and faith in a fictionalized episode in the life of a Southern author resembling Flannery O'Connor.  Bishop captures O'Connor's sense of carnivalesque perspective as the story's protagonists walk amongst miniature architectural wonders of the world built by a monk named Brother Joseph: "Brother Joseph had gathered his materials at random and guessed at architectural features not visible on his postcards.  This asymmetry, along with childlike disregard for scale, blessed the whole garden with the waking irreality of a fever dream.  Except for the sincerity, it all hinted at something akin to satire."   

Ruppersburg does not expand the envelope of Georgia literature at the expense of established authors who are still writing.  Alice Walker, who has passionately written about Flannery O'Connor in some of her essays, is represented with the politically activist and beautiful story, "Blaze."  And Ferrol Sams has included "The Widow's Mite"--an irreverent and funny story that is not afraid of playing with tradition: "Take tithing for instance.  Waldene wouldn't even consider that.  She might spend a sight more than a tenth at Rich's, but a dollar in the collection plate is plenty on Sunday."   

One of the more controversial and interesting editorial decisions in After O'Connor is Ruppersburg's inclusion of stories set outside Georgia.  Ha Jin's "Too Late" is set in China and Judith Ortiz Cofer's "Nada" is set in New Jersey.  While these stories may be the most unexpected for readers familiar with other regional anthologies, they are also perhaps most illustrative of the work that is being done to rethink what we mean by literature "from Georgia" or even what the term "the South" truly encompasses.   

Hugh Ruppersburg is a professor of English at the University of Georgia and has written and edited many books on Georgia literature, including the three-volume Georgia Voices anthology. 

 

Sean Wells
Southern Scribe Reviews

 

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