Writing on Wednesday: Pensters Writing Group and Flannery O’Connor’s Prayer Journal

P.T. Paul, Susan and Ren Hinote of the Pensters Writing Group, Fairhope, Alabama

P.T. Paul, Susan and Ren Hinote of the Pensters Writing Group, Fairhope, Alabama

Last Wednesday I wrote about writing conferences and workshops because I was headed to Fairhope, Alabama, to speak to the Penster’s Writing Group on this very topic (at their request). What a delightful gathering of writers! The Pensters is a writing group that has existed for over 50 years, which speaks volumes to their love of writing. Each month they have a writing contest. It was such a joy to hear the winning entries read by the authors. And then to learn that I would be the judge for next month’s entries—both prose and poetry—which I’m looking forward to reading soon.

My “talk” became an interactive hour of sharing information about writing workshops, conferences, critique groups, querying agents and editors, and submitting your work for publication. The very next day, I got an email from a member of the group telling me she had just submitted an essay to one of the publications I recommended. Others were beginning to research conferences they might attend in 2014.

Yesterday I received my January 2014 issue of Writer’s Digest in the mail, and I turned to the Conference Guide in the back to see what meetings were already advertized. The one that caught my eye because I know a few writers who have served as faculty in the past was the San Miguel Writers Conference and Literary Festival. Next year it will be February 12-17, in San Miguel de Allende. Three of the keynote speakers are Pat Conroy, Yann Martel and Laura Esquivel. What’s not to love?

Local fisherman casting for bait on the Fairhope City Pier at sunset

Local fisherman casting for bait on the Fairhope City Pier at sunset

There’s much to love about Fairhope, Alabama, as well. My hostess, Ren Hinote, treated my road trip mate, NancyKay Wessman, and me to sunsets on the bay, brunch at the Fairhope Inn, lunch at Pelican Bay’s outdoor porch, and dinner at Pinzone’s Italian Village. Oh and shopping at my favorite boutique in Fairhope, The Colony Shop. And late night chats about writing as we relaxed in Ren’s lovely den, and then continued the conversations with coffee around her kitchen counter the following mornings. A perfect weekend (with weather in the 70s and breezy) with others who love the written word. And THANK YOU to the Pensters for hosting me, and for purchasing several copies of The Shoe Burnin’ Anthology: Stories of Southern Soul, and Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality, two books in which I am honored to have essays.

Ren, me and NancyKay at sunset on the Fairhope Pier

Ren, me and NancyKay at sunset on the Fairhope Pier






A few of the Pensters gather for drinks at Ren's before heading to Pinzone's Italian Village

A few of the Pensters gather for drinks at Ren’s before heading to Pinzone’s Italian Village

And speaking of those who love the written word, what a joy today to read this wonderful article, “Flannery O’Connor’s Portrait in Prayer.” Someone has discovered O’Connor’s prayer journal, and has shared it with the world. At first I wondered about the ethical side of publishing such a private journal, but the more I read (and listened to in this audio version of the article) the more I thought she would be happy for people to know about her desires expressed in prayer to God. Like this one:

Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see; but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing.

In another place she asks God:

I want very much to succeed in the world with what I want to do. I have prayed to You about this with my mind and my nerves on it and strung my nerves into a tension over it and said, “oh God please,” and “I must,” and “please, please.”

Her words remind me of Ann Lamott’s three prayers, “Help. Thanks. Wow.” Maybe writers just know how to boil down the words to get to the heart of the matter, even when speaking to God. O’Connor is one of my heroes—because of her brilliant writing and also her faith.  And so as I continue to work on revisions of my novel (which are going very slowly) I will try to remember to ask God’s help. And then to say “thanks.” And at times, “wow.”

One comment

  • Ren Hinote

    Thanks, Susan, for the kind words. Enjoyed every moment of the weekend – and Pensters thoroughly enjoyed your talk on Saturday!

    November 13, 2013

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