Carson McCullers, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1959

Carson McCullers (February 19, 1917 – September 29, 1967) was an American writer. She wrote fiction that explores the spiritual isolation of misfits and outcasts of the South.

Early life

She was born Lula Carson Smith in Columbus, Georgia in 1917 of middle class parentage. Her mother was the granddaughter of a plantation owner and Confederate War hero. Her father, similar to Wilbur Kelly in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, was a well-to-do watchmaker and jeweler of French Huguenot extraction. From the age of five she took piano lessons, and at the age of 15 she received a typewriter from her father.

Two years later she was sent to the Juilliard School of Music in New York City to study the piano, but never attended the school, having lost the money set aside for her tuition. McCullers worked in menial jobs and studied creative writing under Texas writer Dorothy Scarborough at night classes at Columbia University and Washington Square College. She decided instead to become a writer and published in 1936 an autobiographical piece, Wunderkind, in Story magazine. It depicted a musical prodigy's failure and adolescent insecurity.

Marriage and career

In 1935 she moved to North Carolina, and in 1937 she married a soldier and struggling writer, Reeves McCullers (both were bisexual). There she wrote her first novel The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, in the Southern Gothic tradition. The title, suggested by McCullers's editor, was taken from Fiona MacLeod's poem 'The Lonely Hunter'. The novel itself was interpreted as an anti-fascist book. Altogether she published only eight books. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940), written at the age of twenty-three, and Reflections in a Golden Eye (1941), are the most well-known. The novella The Ballad of the Sad Cafe (1951) also depicts loneliness and the pain of unrequited love. She was an alumna of Yaddo in Saratoga, New York.

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter was filmed in 1968 with Alan Arkin in the lead role. Reflections in a Golden Eye was directed by John Huston (1967), starring Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor. Some of the film was shot in New York City and on Long Island, where Huston was permitted to use an abandoned Army installation. Many of the interiors and some of the exteriors were done in Italy. "I first met Carson McCullers during the war when I was visiting Paulette Goddard and Burgess Meredith in upstate New York," said Huston in An Open Book (1980). "Carson lived nearby, and one day when Buzz and I were out for a walk she hailed us from her doorway. She was then in her early twenties, and had already suffered the first of series of strokes. I remember her as a fragile thing with great shining eyes, and a tremor in her hand as she placed it in mine. It wasn't palsy, rather a quiver of animal timidity. But there was nothing timid or frail about the manner in which Carson McCullers faced life. And as her afflictions multiplied, she only grew stronger."hey boy how yall done?

Failed marriage and emotional struggles

McCullers's marriage turned out to be unsuccessful. They both had homosexual relationships and separated in 1940 (divorced 1941). After she separated from Reeves, she moved to New York to live with George Davis, the editor of Harper's Bazaar. In Brooklyn, McCullers became a member of the art commune February House. Among their friends were W. H. Auden, Benjamin Britten, and Paul and Jane Bowles. After World War II, McCullers lived mostly in Paris. Her close friends during these years included Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams.

In 1945, McCullers remarried with Reeves. Three years later, she attempted suicide under depression. In 1953, Reeves tried to convince McCullers to commit suicide with him, but she fled.[1] After McCullers left him, Reeves killed himself in their Paris hotel with an overdose of sleeping pills. McCullers's bitter-sweet play, The Square Root of Wonderful (1958), was an attempt to examine these traumatic experiences. The Member of the Wedding (1946) described the feelings of a young girl at her brother's wedding. The Broadway production of the novel had a successful run in 1950–51.

McCullers suffered throughout her life from several illnesses and alcoholism - she had contracted rheumatic fever at the age of fifteen and suffered from strokes since her youth. By the age of 31, her left side was entirely paralyzed. She died in Nyack, New York, on September 29, 1967, after a stroke and a resultant brain hemorrhage. Illumination and Night Glare (1999), her unfinished autobiography, McCullers dictated during her final months.


"Miss McCullers and perhaps Mr. Faulkner are the only writers since the death of D. H. Lawrence with an original poetic sensibility. I prefer Miss McCullers to Mr. Faulkner because she writes more clearly; I prefer her to D. H. Lawrence because she has no message." – Graham Greene
"Moving, yes, but a minor author. And broken by illness at such a young age." – Arthur Miller

Although McCullers's oeuvre is often described as "Southern Gothic," she produced her famous works after leaving the South. Her eccentric characters suffer from loneliness that is interpreted with deep empathy. In a discussion with the Irish critic and writer Terence de Vere White she confessed: "Writing, for me, is a search for God." This search was not acknowledged by all of her colleagues – Arthur Miller dismissed her, but Gore Vidal praised her work as "one of the few satisfying achievements of our second-rate culture." Other critics have variously detected tragicomic or political elements in her writing.



  • The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940)
  • Reflections in a Golden Eye (1941)
  • The Member of the Wedding (1946)
  • Clock Without Hands (1961)

Other works

  • The Ballad of the Sad Cafe (1951), a collection of short stories, including the novella The Ballad of the Sad Cafe.
  • The Square Root of Wonderful (1958), a play.
  • Sweet as a Pickle and Clean as a Pig (1964), a collection of poems.
  • The Mortgaged Heart (1972), a posthumous collection of writings, edited by her sister Rita.
  • Illumination and Night Glare (1999), her unfinished autobiography, published nearly 30 years after her death.



  1. Dews, Carlos, Carson McCullers (1917-1967), The New Georgia Encyclopedia, November 7, 2005.

External links

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