Novelist and short story writer Ann Hood has always loved Flannery O'Connor, but when she came to Savannah to visit O'Connor's childhood home, she was stopped by a sea of green.
"Twelve years ago, I was assigned by a magazine to drive from Rhode Island to Key West," Hood says. "I always wanted to visit the Flannery O'Connor Childhood Home. Little did I know Savannah was celebrating St. Patrick's Day."
Not only was Savannah difficult to navigate, the museum was closed. But sometimes things eventually work out, so when the Flannery O'Connor Childhood Home invited Hood to deliver the annual Ursrey Memorial Lecture on Sept. 1, she was delighted to accept.
The Ursrey Lecture Series is endowed in memory of Terry and Ashley Ursrey, Georgia brothers who loved all things Southern. The series began in 2008.
"We're thrilled to bring Ann Hood to Savannah for a free lecture," says Joseph Schwartzburt, a member of the board of directors for the Flannery O'Connor Childhood Home and the event's organizer. "The Savannah community will appreciate her literary talent and engaging style."
Hood is originally from Rhode Island.
"I went to college in Rhode Island,"she says. "I thought, 'I've really got to get out of my hometown and my home state.'"
So, for eight years, Hood worked as a flight attendant for TWA.
"I moved around a lot and began writing my first novel," she says. "I lived around the corner from New York University, so I took two writing workshops."
When Hood was accepted into a Bread Loaf Writers Conference in Vermont, she called in sick for two weeks so she could attend it.
"I took my short stories with me," she says. "A writer there loved them and encouraged me to put them into a novel. Three weeks after the conference, I had a book contract."
That first novel was "Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine," written in 1983 while Hood was working as a flight attendant and attending graduate school. She often wrote during train rides to JFK airport or in the galleys of the airplane while passengers slept.
Hood's best-selling memoir, "Comfort: A Journey Through Grief," tells of the death of her 5-year-old daughter Grace and her subsequent search for healing. It was named one of the top 10 non-fiction books of 2008 by Entertainment Weekly and was a New York Times Editor's Choice.
Hood has written 14 novels, three memoirs, a short story collection, a 10-book series for middle readers and one young adult novel. Her essays and short stories have appeared in publications such as The Paris Review, Ploughshares and Tin House.
A regular contributor to the New York Times' Op-Ed page, Home Economics column, Hood's most recent work is "The Book That Matters Most." But at the lecture, she will discuss her book, "Morningstar," a personal memoir that explores the transformative power of literature. In the book, Hood remembers how "The Bell Jar," "Marjorie Morningstar," "The Harrad Experiment" and "The Outsiders" influenced her to become a writer.
Hood loves writing.
"I have a friend who took the traditional route," she says. "Her goal is to retire to do what she wants. I'm doing exactly what I want to right now and getting paid for it."
There are many perks to the writing life.
"It allows me to teach and foster new young writers," Hood says. "It gives me solitude, which I also like. I was a very solitary child."
Hood writes on a daily basis.
"In an ideal world, I take my daughter to school, then do whatever I want until 10:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.," she says. "Then I write until about 3 p.m. and go pick my daughter up.
"But because of teaching and speaking obligations, I can't always do that," Hood says. "The non-writing part of it gets in the way. I'm looking forward to fall."
Today, Hood lives in Providence, R.I. She has two children, Annabelle and Sam, and is married to writer Michael Ruhlman.
A reception and book signing will follow the lecture at 8 p.m. From Savannah, Hood will go to the Decatur Book Festival.
"I'll have my husband and daughter with me," Hood says. "My son is 24, so it's a little harder to get him to come.
"When I'm at an international place to speak, I try to bring them with me," she says. "I do it so they can see what it is I do."
IF YOU GO
What: Ursrey Memorial Lecture, featuring author Ann Hood
When: 7 p.m. Sept. 1; reception and book signing at 8 p.m.
Where: Trinity United Methodist Church, 225 W. President St.