Rare 1959 Audio: Flannery O’Connor Reads ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find’

Flannery O’Connor was a Southern writer who, as Joyce Carol Oates once said, had less in common with Faulkner than with Kafka and Kierkegaard. Isolated by poor health and consumed by her fervent Catholic faith, O’Connor created works of moral fiction that, according to Oates, “were not refined New Yorker stories of the era in which nothing happens except inside the characters’ minds, but stories in which something happens of irreversible magnitude, often death by violent means.”

In imagining those events of irreversible magnitude, O’Connor could sometimes seem outlandish–even cartoonish–but she strongly rejected the notion that her perceptions of 20th century life were distorted. “Writers who see by the light of their Christian faith will have, in these times, the sharpest eye for the grotesque, for the perverse, and for the unacceptable,” O’Connor said. “To the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.”

In April of 1959–five years before her death at the age of 39 from lupus–O’Connor ventured away from her secluded family farm in Milledgeville, Georgia, to give a reading at Vanderbilt University. She read one of her most famous and unsettling stories, “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” The audio, accessible above, is one of two known recordings of the author reading that story. (The other, from a 1957 appearance at Notre Dame University, can be heard here.) In her distinctive Georgian drawl, O’Connor tells the story of a fateful family trip:

The grandmother didn’t want to go to Florida. She wanted to visit some of her connections in east Tennessee and she was seizing at every chance to change Bailey’s mind. Bailey was the son she lived with, her only boy. He was sitting on the edge of his chair at the table, bent over the orange sports section of the Journal. “Now look here, Bailey,” she said, “see here, read this,” and she stood with one hand on her thin hip and the other rattling the newspaper at his bald head. “Here this fellow that calls himself The Misfit is aloose from the Federal Pen and headed toward Florida and you read here what it says he did to these people. Just you read it. I wouldn’t take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it. I couldn’t answer to my conscience if I did.”

To continue reading the full text while you listen, open this page in a new window. And afterward, you can follow this link to a recording of O’Connor reading her 1960 essay, “Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction,” in which she writes: “I have found that anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the Northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.”

You will find O’Connor’s reading of “A Good Man is Hard to Find” housed in our collection of Free Audio Books.



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  1. Jim Groom says . . . | June 5, 2012 / 9:59 am

    Really not that rare, you can find it on the Criterion DVD for John Huston’s interpretation of Wise Blood. Quite easy to rip and share :)

  2. x says . . . | June 9, 2012 / 3:07 pm

    LOVE. HER. OMG

  3. Brandon J. Brown says . . . | June 26, 2012 / 8:05 pm

    Every that Rises, Must Converge!

  4. chickfilaJim says . . . | August 1, 2012 / 2:14 pm

    Never heard her voice before, Criterion ripping or not. She sounds great. I love so many of her stories.

  5. Mary Hill says . . . | August 25, 2012 / 9:08 am

    Thanks for sharing this! I’ve always loved O’Connor and have never heard her read. What a treat!

  6. kenya says . . . | September 30, 2012 / 10:02 pm

    This is a good story! Love her accent!

  7. Michael begley says . . . | October 23, 2012 / 10:05 am

    Very good story and love the audio accent.

  8. Extollager says . . . | November 5, 2012 / 12:11 pm

    Superb.

  9. eve says . . . | January 18, 2013 / 10:49 am

    i fell in love with this book, and i think that she is a marvalous writer and i enjoy reading her books in the future…

  10. lorrinajacks says . . . | January 18, 2013 / 10:52 am

    i hated this book i mean who would read a crappy book like this, i wouldnt recommend this to any one!!!! whos with me…

  11. Deb Dennis says . . . | March 30, 2013 / 3:32 pm

    Love love love Flannery’s work!

  12. RT Spears says . . . | March 31, 2013 / 12:35 pm

    Definitely a favorite, and loved hearing her read it. Wait- what, she has an accent?!? Compared to WHAT, exactly? :)

  13. Deaf Ears says . . . | October 5, 2013 / 10:30 pm

    Nobody

  14. PacoRobles says . . . | October 20, 2013 / 8:07 am

    Literally no one.

  15. roxannesays says . . . | November 6, 2013 / 7:16 am

    It’s not a book, it’s a short story.

  16. Dennis Cass says . . . | December 6, 2013 / 11:50 am

    The deadpan delivery compliments the deadpan humor. I’ve wondered if this story might have been an influence on (of all things) “National Lampoon’s Vacation”.

  17. Kimberly says . . . | December 7, 2013 / 6:27 pm

    Is it because you either do not understand the sociological/psychological critique or perhaps because it hit a little too close to home?

  18. David Lloyd says . . . | January 28, 2014 / 3:26 am

    Quite a disturbing story but I’m starting to become fascinated by the Old South. Being an Australian and not having listened to many who have this lady’s southern drawl, I am glad I read the story before I listened to her read it herself.

  19. Bill W. says . . . | April 10, 2014 / 9:58 pm

    My grandmother grew up with O’Connor in Georgia. She used to tell me about how she taught her chickens to walk backwards, etc. This is the first time I’ve heard Flannery’s voice. Her accent was identical to my grandmothers. Her telling her story floods my mind with pleasant memories.

  20. Joe W. says . . . | May 21, 2014 / 9:15 am

    I am totally amazed and totally grateful to be able to hear Flannery O’Connor’s voice for the first time in my life!

    When I met my wife in 1982 one of the things that cemented our relationship was our love for the same authors. Flannery O’Connor & John Irving topped our lists.

    We never had a son but if you’re lucky someday you might meet our 22 year old daughter, Flannery Kate! It turns out my Flannery is almost as special as her namesake.

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