Flannery O'Connor was the only child of Edward F. O'Connor and Regina Cline O’Connor. Her father was diagnosed with lupus in 1937; he died on February 1, 1941 when Flannery was 15. The disease was hereditary in the O'Connor family and Flannery O'Connor was devastated by the loss of her father.
O'Connor described herself as a "pigeon-toed child with a receding chin and a you-leave-me-alone-or-I'll-bite-you complex." When O'Connor was six she taught a chicken to walk backwards, and it was this that led to her first experience of being a celebrity. The Pathé News people filmed "Little Mary O'Connor" with her trained chicken, and showed the film around the country. She said, "When I was six I had a chicken that walked backward and was in the Pathe News. I was in it too with the chicken. I was just there to assist the chicken but it was the high point in my life. Everything since has been anticlimax.”
O'Connor attended the Peabody Laboratory School, from which she graduated in 1942. She entered Georgia State College for Women (now Georgia College & State University), in an accelerated three-year program, and graduated in June 1945 with a Social Sciences degree. She almost didn't graduate. In 1946 she was accepted into the prestigious Iowa Writers' Workshop.
In 1949 O'Connor met and eventually accepted an invitation to stay with Robert Fitzgerald (translator of Greek plays and epic poems, including Oedipus Rex and both the Odyssey and the Iliad, and also a respected poet in his own right) and his wife, Sally, in Redding, Connecticut.
In 1951 she was diagnosed with disseminated lupus, and subsequently returned to her ancestral farm, Andalusia, in Milledgeville, Georgia. She was expected to live only five more years; she lived nearly 15. At Andalusia, she raised and nurtured some 100 peafowl. Fascinated by birds of all kinds, she raised ducks, hens, geese, and any sort of exotic bird she could obtain, while incorporating images of peacocks into her books. She describes her peacocks in an essay entitled "The King of Birds." Despite her sheltered life, her writing reveals an uncanny grasp of the nuances of human behavior.[original research?] She was a devout Catholic living in the "Bible Belt," the Protestant South. She collected books on Catholic theology and at times gave lectures on faith and literature, traveling quite far despite her frail health. Her bed-time reading was none other than the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas. She also maintained a wide correspondence, including such famous writers as Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop. She never married, relying for companionship on her correspondence and on her close relationship with her mother, Regina Cline O'Connor.
O'Connor completed more than two dozen short stories and two novels while battling lupus. She died on August 3, 1964, at the age of 39, of complications from lupus at Baldwin County Hospital and was buried in Milledgeville, Georgia, at Memory Hill Cemetery. Her mother died in 1997.