Georgia College’s Andalusia Institute has robust virtual opening

Future writer's residency planned for land behind Flannery O'Connor's Andalusia farmhouse

Milledgeville, Georgia, Nov. 02, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- It was a bizarre time to begin a new job—let alone launch an organization from scratch.

COVID-19 quickly turned Dr. Irene Burgess’ new position as inaugural executive director of Georgia College’s new Andalusia Institute into a quagmire of possible pitfalls. But the opening was ‘virtually’ flawless.

“It’s gratifying that we’ve been able to develop the start of an Andalusia Institute culture, despite the challenges of the time,” Burgess said. “Actually, COVID was one of the better things that happened to us. It gave me time to work on our virtual presence, create a Facebook page and establish ourselves in a way that’s really unique.”

Putting events online turned out to be a smart move—amplifying the works of famed author and alumna Flannery O’Connor, while introducing the institute to a wider audience. People worldwide tune in for lively discussions about O’Connor’s novels, short stories and essays.

Before the pandemic, Burgess planned to begin slowly, building up the institute with author visits and readings. COVID changed that direction, and Burgess couldn’t be happier with the results. More than 200 people are registered to participate in virtual events—the most popular given by English Professor Dr. Bruce Gentry.

For years, Gentry led a monthly discussion on O’Connor with residents in Eatonton, Georgia. Online, his sessions have blossomed into a bimonthly international affair. Viewers from all over the United States—as well as Italy, Spain, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Argentina and Turkey—link into his Zoom programs. People who can’t otherwise travel to Andalusia find a sense of community, connection and common interest with likeminded readers via computer.

Andalusia Institute’s online programs also sparked global interest in Milledgeville, Georgia history, Southern studies and mid-20th century literature.

“This little thing in Eatonton once a month is now worldwide because of coronavirus,” Burgess said. “Only half the audience are scholars. Some are just happy to have someone to talk to because of COVID. Others are fanatic about her books. They love her and they love her books, but they never had anyone to talk to about it. Now they have an outlet.”

Burgess understands the magnetism of O’Connor’s peculiar, charming and sometimes gruesome stories. She grew up in rural Maine and sees many of her townsfolk in the quirky mannerism of O’Connor’s characters.

When she saw Georgia College was opening an Andalusia Institute—Burgess jumped at the chance to visit campus and see where O’Connor got her undergraduate degree in sociology. She couldn’t wait to tour the Andalusia farmhouse, where O’Connor spent her remaining years writing and suffering from Lupus—a devastating inflammatory disease when the immune system attacks its own tissues. The author developed Lupus in her mid 20s and died at age 39, while living at Andalusia with her mother. Nearly all of her short stories, novels, essays and letters were written during those years.

Plans are being laid for a future writing residency on 487 acres of land behind the Andalusia property in Milledgeville, Georgia. Burgess hopes to build individual houses and a writing center with advanced accessibility and supports for the disabled. She feels this would best honor O’Connor, who wore leg braces and walked with crutches due to her illness.

Burgess envisions a writing residency for all people, but one especially equipped to assist people with all types of disabilities. There are other writing residencies in the country. Out of 5,000 higher education schools, however, maybe 50 are tied to alumni writers. None are built to uniquely support the disabled.

“There’s this whole group of artists, who have disabilities. About one-in-five people in the U.S. has a disability,” Burgess said. “One of the problems with writing residencies—many are in old houses converted to be accessible. We’re building something from scratch. Why not build something that’s highly accessible? Build it so everyone can use it. Make it easier for all people.”

“It will be a challenge,” she said. “But it could also be very appealing and distinctive.”

For more information, see Georgia College's Front Page.


Dr. Irene Burgess, executive director of Georgia College's Andalusia Institute Georgia College's Andalusia: Home of famed alumna and author Flannery O'Connor

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