Hazel Elizabeth "Betty" Hester (June 1, 1923 – December 26, 1998) was an American correspondent of influential twentieth-century writers, including Flannery O'Connor and Iris Murdoch. Hester wrote several short stories, poems, diaries, and philosophical treatises, none of which were published.
Hester was born in Rome, Georgia and attended Young Harris College. She served in the U.S. Air Force in California and Wiesbaden, Germany, shortly after World War II (roughly 1948–1952). After her dishonorable discharge from the Air Force, she moved to Atlanta. Hester spent most of her life in a small Midtown Atlanta apartment. She worked for Atlanta-based Retail Credit Company, commuting every day by bus. She struggled with alcoholism and bouts of depression. She was also a lesbian, which she only admitted to her closest friends.
Hester is best known for her 9-year correspondence and friendship with Southern fiction writer Flannery O'Connor. Between 1955 and 1964, Hester and O'Connor exchanged nearly 300 letters, some of which are published in Sally Fitzgerald's 1979 compilation of O'Connor's correspondence, The Habit of Being. Hester, a very private and reclusive woman, asked that her identity be kept secret in the published letters. Thus, she appears as "A".
Hester first wrote to O'Connor in July 1955, when O'Connor was working on her second novel, The Violent Bear it Away. Eager to exchange thoughts and ideas with someone of equal intellectual caliber, O'Connor wrote back, "I would like to know who this is who understands my stories." O'Connor felt that she and Hester shared a spiritual kinship and later O'Connor would become Hester's confirmation sponsor in the Catholic Church. Hester left the Church in 1961 and turned to agnosticism. This news was a grave disappointment for O'Connor, who had engaged Hester in theological dialogues and tried to sustain her friend's faith.
Hester died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in December 1998, at the age of 75.
- Tagami, Kirsten. (10 May 2007). "Flannery O'Connor letters going public" at the Wayback Machine (archived May 15, 2007) Atlanta Journal-Constitution. web.archive.org. Retrieved 16 May 2014.
- "Flannery O'Connor's Private Life Revealed in Letters". rough transcript of NPR interview with Steve Enniss of Emory University, 12 May 2007. Retrieved 16 May 2014.
- Christine McCulloch, "Glimpsing Andalusia in the O'Connor-Hester Letters." Southern Spaces, 23 October 2008.