Baltimore artist Christine Sajecki has been known for years for her encaustic paintings, which have graced book covers, gallery walls, and the studios of the Creative Alliance in Highlandtown, where she taught the medium for several years while an artist in residence. Her latest endeavor, however, has nothing to do with wax or Charm City, but a southern writer, one celebrated by hipsters and misanthropes and the literary world alike for her brutal Southern Gothic short stories and novels.
“I moved to Georgia in 2009, and while I was living there with my husband I found a proclamation at the library in Savannah, declaring January 13th, 1972, as Flannery O’Connor Day,” Sajecki explains. “I had just made a friend, Andrew Hartzell, who said something along the lines of, “hey, if anyone ever has a reason to throw a parade, let me know!”
Sajecki has never been one to back down from a challenge (or a parade). As she explains it, for the next few weeks she and Hartzell “harassed, rallied, and bamboozled all the people we knew that liked books, music, or making things, and met outside the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home in the afternoon of January 13th, 2012.”
Attendance was modest in the first year; Sajecki estimates a crowd of 20 turned out. Some wore period-relevant 1950s southern attire; others wore whatever costumes they had on hand, such as kimonos, and some came as they were. The motley crew of Sajecki, drummer Hartzell, and another drummer marched around Lafayette Square and in front of the Cathedral where Flannery attended mass when she was young, holding stencils of Flannery’s face and quotes from her stories and letters.
It was shortly thereafter that Sajecki joined the board of directors at the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home, and attendance skyrocketed.
“For 2013, the parade was easily 5x as big, 10x as loud, and 100x the miracle,” Sajecki recalls. “It was pouring like a monsoon all morning, but the clouds broke exactly in time.”
Sajecki credits Baltimore microfiction writer Joseph Young with turning her onto O’Connor’s fiction. But it wasn’t until she moved to Savannah that she really grew to appreciate O’Connor’s genius.
“Being a Northerner and a well-meaning liberal do-gooder by birth, her portrait of the South really resonates with me. Savannah has dark and dense spooky edges, and O’Connor’s work reflects those perfectly, as well as mirroring the trouble one has as a liberal do-gooder from elsewhere thinking they know what’s up in the South. The closest one can get is reading O’Connor, I think, even after living there for years.”
This year’s festival, held on Sunday, March 30th, will feature a pre-parade carnival picnic in the Lafayette Square that includes vintage vendors giving people the opportunity to purchase costumes and accessories, craft tables that offer one to create Flannery O’Connor-themed parade signs, along with the usual carnival fare, such as face painting, portraits with a poet dressed like a gorilla, and Chicken **** Bingo, which, Sajecki explains, “is similar to standard bingo except it’s chickens pooping on a numbered grid instead of humans drawing numbers out of a hopper.” And of course, the marching band, led by Hartzell. The sidewalk parade begins at 3 pm and serves an informal tour of by which O’Connor would have walked in her neighborhood–her childhood home, St. John’s Cathedral, St. Vincent’s School For Girls, before circling back.
Judging by the enthusiasm and and Facebook RSVPs, Sajecki expects turnout for the Flannery O’Connor Parade,Picnic, and Street Fair will eclipse last year’s. But why did it take a visual artist from the northern city of Baltimore to honor O’Connor’s work in her hometown of Savannah?
Sajecki thinks the answer is pretty simple. “I am operating on the assumption that people naturally want to do things in public that are slightly embarrassing in the name of literature.”
Don’t Forget! Flannery O’Connor Parade,Picnic, and Street Fair, Sunday, March 30th, 1-4 pm. Parade begins at 3 pm. Abercorn St. and E. Charlton Street, Savannah, Georgia. For more information, visit the festival’s webpage at the Flannery O’Connor Home website.
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