[percy-l] A Good Stamp is Hard to Find

Jim Forest jhforest at gmail.com
Sun Jun 7 16:16:38 EDT 2015

A Good Stamp Is Hard to Find

  Credit United States Postal Service

English majors, say hooray: Flannery O’Connor is on a postage stamp. It
comes out Friday and costs 93 cents.

It’s a pretty picture. She wears a simple top with a jewel neckline, and
pearls. Her pink porcelain face, framed in a 1940s bob, glows with the
barest hint of a how-do-you-do smile.

Wait — what’s Betty Crocker doing on Flannery’s stamp?

This stamp does not, to my eyes, show Flannery O’Connor, the 20th-century
master of the short story, the “hermit novelist” who fused her art and life
as a Southerner and a Roman Catholic with stories that are shocking,
hilarious and often bloody. The one who lived with her mother in
Milledgeville, Ga., and raised peafowl. Who got sick and died young, of
lupus, in 1964. Who gazed at the sin-stricken world through cat-eye glasses
that are as much her visual signature as Hemingway’s beard or Frida’s

This stamp shows the artist as a very young woman, barely 20 years old.
It’s based on a photo of her as an undergraduate at Georgia State College
for Women. Her oeuvre then amounted to cartoons and stories for the college
magazine. Everything else in her dazzling career — the Iowa Writers’
Workshop, the artists’ retreat Yaddo, “Wise Blood,” “A Good Man Is Hard to
Find” — lay ahead.
  Flannery O'Connor beneath her self portrait in June 1962. Credit Joe
McTyre/Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The image has rattled some O’Connor admirers. (Facebook
<https://www.facebook.com/Andalusiafarmpage>: “This is all wrong. They
glamour-shot her. She looks like she has a bad case of pink eye.” )

The United States Postal Service gave this job to an art director, who
hired a freelance artist. I spoke with both of them, and learned that
neither knew much about O’Connor, but they did their best with the images
they had. The artist told me he had read one of her novels in college. He
knew O’Connor had raised peacocks, so he framed her with feathers. The art
director remembered that her work was “unsettling,” and that she was a

I can’t blame either of them for deciding on this striking portrait as the
best fit for their tiny canvas, but I wish they and the Postal Service had
produced a stamp that was more recognizably the grown-up Flannery, and
contained some taste of her strange and majestic artistic vision.

I know she does not present an automatic illustrative equation, like
mustache + steamboat = Mark Twain. But a better choice was staring the
Postal Service in the face: a painting made by the author herself, a
self-portrait from 1953. She is wearing a yellow straw hat, holding a
devilish-looking pheasant and looking straight at you, baleful and
brilliant, as if she could smell your stupidity. It is gorgeous and jagged
and honest and perfect.

“The self-portrait was made ten years ago,” O’Connor wrote to a friend,
“after a very acute siege of lupus. I was taking cortisone, which gives you
what they call a moon-face, and my hair had fallen out to a large extent
from the high fever, so I looked pretty much like the portrait. When I
painted it I didn’t look either at myself in the mirror or at the bird. I
knew what we both looked like.”

A version of this editorial appears in print on June 5, 2015, on page A26
of the New York edition with the headline: A Good Stamp Is Hard to Find.
*two new books*:
*Loving Our Enemies: Reflections on the Hardest Commandment*:
*Saint Nicholas and the Nine Gold Coins:*

Jim & Nancy web site: www.jimandnancyforest.com
Photo albums: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/sets/

*Jim & Nancy Forest*
Kanisstraat 5 / 1811 GJ Alkmaar / The Netherlands

* * *
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