The names of the 20 finalists for the National Book Awards have been announced at small venues around the country before -- like at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, for example.
But the news last week that our own Flannery O'Connor Childhood Home on Charlton Street would host the big literary event this October is doubly important for the venue.
"It's a huge honor for us as a small museum house in a relatively small city to get to host something of such national significance," says Bill Dawers, president of the O'Connor Home board.
The O'Connor Childhood Home was selected from more than 75 venue suggestions from readers of the National Book Foundation's monthly newsletter.
While O'Connor did the vast bulk of her writing at the family farm, Andalusia, in Milledgeville, Ga., she did grow up at the house on Lafayette Square, and the neighborhood -- dominated by the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, which she attended -- made an indelible mark on her future work.
The National Book Awards coup is all the more remarkable given the fact that the O'Connor Home has, in a sense, only recently come into its own as a key historic site in town.
"It's an amazing story, about these visionary Armstrong professors buying the house in 1989 and keeping the parlor level open on weekends using nothing but volunteers and keeping the mortgage paid," muses Dawers.
After a recent renovation, the O'Connor Home hired their first part-time paid employee a year and half ago and are able to stay open to the public six days a week. "Our numbers are way, way up even from last year," says Dawers.
Of course, logistically hosting the announcement will be a challenge for the venue.
"Our parlor in the best-case scenario can only hold a few dozen people. By the time you've got officials from National Book Foundation and invited guests and local dignitaries in there, suddenly it's looking pretty full," laughs Dawers.
Other potential plans for the event include a reception afterward at a yet-to-be-named neighborhood locale and the possible visit by one or more of O'Connor's surviving first cousins.
Dawers says not only is the National Book Awards finalists announcement of huge importance for the O'Connor Home, the event will also show that "this is yet another validation that she is one of the most important writers of the 20th century."
While she's hardly a household word, O'Connor remains an enormous influence on writers the world over, who frequently cite her sardonic humor and innate grasp of the complexities of human nature. Her influence is all the more remarkable given her comparatively short career.
"She only published a few dozen stories and two novels, she died at age 39, she wrote in a very isolated place," says Dawers. "She was never a sensation during her life. William Faulkner won a Nobel Prize for literature during his lifetime. Eudora Welty was still writing into old age. Unless people are inveterate readers or interested in writing -- all writers know O'Connor's work -- it isn't like she's routinely talked about."
Besides its national impact, the National Book Awards announcement will also serve to expose the life and work of Flannery O'Connor to her fellow Savannahians as well.
"This is an authentic part of Savannah's legacy," Dawers says. "Savannah has never fully appreciated the national contributions of some of the figures that grew up here. It's ironic given how much Savannah honors its past."
The National Book Awards Finalist Announcement takes place at the Flannery O'Connor Childhood Home, 207 E. Charlton St., on Oct. 13, 2010.