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Biographical Information on Flannery O'Connor

Yaddo History

Once the private home of poet, Katrina Trask and her husband Spencer Trask, Yaddo is now an artist colony in Saratoga Springs, New York. The Trasks purchased the property in 1881, and named it Yaddo. The main house burned down 10 years after the Trasks bought the property. Architect William Halsey Wood designed a new house for the family which was completed in 1893 and still serves as the main building in the Yaddo community.

After the deaths of their four children, the Trasks envisioned turning their property into a retreat for artists and, in 1900, The Corporation of Yaddo was formed. Spenser Trask died in 1909. Near the end of her life Katrina, then a widow, remarried a friend of the family, George Foster Peabody. After Katrina's death in 1922, George Foster Peabody continued working to make Yaddo an artist community. In 1922 he hired Elizabeth Ames as executive director. Ames opened Yaddo to its first guests in 1926.

The philosophy behind Yaddo is to give artists a quite place to work, free of distraction. Guest artists spend their days alone in cottages and individual rooms. Artists who stay at Yaddo have all of their room and board expenses paid for by the Yaddo Foundation. Acceptance as a Yaddo guest is based on an artist's work and recommendations. As Spenser Task described in his dream for Yaddo, "It is such as these whom we would have enjoy the hospitality of Yaddo their sole qualifications being that they have done, are doing or give promise of doing good and earnest work."

The Yaddo mansion is furnished with Tiffany glass and heavy Victorian furniture. The property has rose and rock gardens which were designed by Spenser Trask, as a gift to his wife Katrina.

Flannery O'Connor at Yaddo

Flannery O'Connor first wrote to Yaddo director, Elizabeth Ames, in November of 1947 at which time she requested to spend the following summer at the community. Her application lists Paul Engle, Andrew Lytle, and Austin Warren as references.

O'Connor received an invitation to live at Yaddo in 1948. O'Connor left Iowa to live at the community from June to July of that year where she worked on her first novel Wise Blood. She returned to the colony in mid-September after turning down a fellowship Paul Engle offered her in Iowa. She remained at Yaddo through Christmas, and learned in early January that she would be able to stay beyond March of 1949.

O'Connor's intended stay was cut short amid controversy in February of 1949. Long time Yaddo guest, Agnes Smedley, was accused of being a communist spy in a New York Times article published on February 11, 1949. During this controversy there were only four guests at Yaddo: Robert Lowell, Edward Maisel, Elizabeth Hardwick, and Flannery O'Connor. The artists discovered Yaddo and Elizabeth Ames had been under investigation by the FBI and were concerned that Yaddo had been used to hide Smedley's political agenda. The four artists believed Elizabeth Ames should leave the community, based on the belief that she was protecting Agnes Smedley's political agenda. The group approached the Yaddo board voicing their concerns. After two hearings conducted by the board, Ames was found innocent of any wrong doing. Amid the publicized controversy, O'Connor and Lowell left Yaddo. O'Connor lived for a short time in a room at the YWCA in New York City. She was later invited back to Yaddo, but after the controversy, she never returned.

While there was much publicity and controversy associated with O'Connor's tenure at Yaddo, it was also a place where she was able to write and meet other authors. O'Connor was working on her first novel Wise Blood while she was a resident at Yaddo. She become friends with Robert Lowell and Malcom Cowley, who both advised her on her writing. It was also during this time that O'Connor received criticism on Wise Blood from her agent John Selby at Rinehart. O'Connor, in her dissatisfaction with Selby, first wrote to Elizabeth McKee on June 19, 1948 and asked McKee to be her agent. Elizabeth McKee at Harcourt, Brace and Company would be O'Connor's agent until McKee's death in 1997. In February of 1949 during a visit away from Yaddo, O'Connor met Robert and Sally Fitzgerald for the first time. The Fitzgeralds would be two of O'Connor's life long friends. 

More Information

  • Bongartz, Roy. "Yaddo at 60." Publishers Weekly 229 (1986): 32-35.
  • Cheever, Susan. "Yaddo Artists' Colony: An Oasis of Peace and Inspiration in Upstate New York." Architectural Digest 53 (1996): 34-37.
  • Fischer, Mary A. "Places in the Sun." 29 Horizon (1986): 10-13.
  • O'Connor, Flannery. Collected Works. Ed. Fitzgerald, Sally. The Library of America, 1988.
  • O'Connor, Flannery. Letters of Flannery O'Connor: The Habit of Being. Ed. Fitzgerald, Sally. New York: Vintage Books, 1979.