Carson McCullers was born Lula Carson Smith in 1917, in Columbus, Georgia. Her father owned a jewellery store. As a child she was a talented pianist and was strongly encouraged by her mother to pursue the piano as a career. A childhood bout of rheumatic fever left her too weak to practise much. At age seventeen, she was admitted to the Juilliard School of Music in New York. However, she lost most of the money her parents had given her to study and worked odd jobs to support herself, while attending creative writing classes. While bedridden in 1936, after an illness, she started writing The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, which was published in 1941. Her first short story was published in 1936.
In 1937 she married Reeves McCullers, whom she had met when he was in the army at Fort Benning, near her hometown. Unfortunately, the partners shared a dependence on alcohol and were both bisexual. They divorced in 1941, after both fell in love with the composer David Diamond, and remarried in 1945. Shortly after she left him for a second time, in 1953, he killed himself.
McCullers had considerable critical success with her novels, the first of which was published when she was only twenty-three. However, she suffered from health problems, including the first of her strokes in 1941. In August 1944, after her father’s sudden death, she moved in with her mother in Nyack, New York, where she spent most of the rest of her life. She continued to suffer from poor health and attempted suicide in 1948. She finally died of a stroke in 1967.
Her books clearly fall into the Southern Gothic mould (see also Faulkner and O’Connor), focusing on the sense of doom, characters with fatal flaws, racism (often brutally portrayed) and people who (like her) have difficulty fitting into society at large. Her wonderful portraits of such people, particularly young women like Mick in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and Frankie in The Member of the Wedding, make her one of the foremost Southern writers of the twentieth century.
Books about Carson McCullers
Virginia Carr: Lonely Hunter A Biography of Carson McCullers
Josyane Savigneau: Carson McCullers A Life
The Carson McCullers Project
Carson McCullers, 1917-1967
Carson McCullers (1917-1967)
Carson McCullers Center
1940 The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
1940 Reflections in a Golden Eye
1946 The Member of the Wedding
1951 The Ballad of the Sad Café
1958 The Square Root of Wonderful (drama)
1961 Clock Without Hands
1964 Sweet as a Pickle and Clean as a Pig (poetry)
1971 The Mortgaged Heart (drama)
1999 Illumination and Night Glare: The Unfinished Autobiography of Carson McCullers