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The work of Carson McCullers, author of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and The Member of the Wedding, is must-read southern gothic fiction.
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Born Lula Carson Smith on February 19, 1917, Carson McCullers gained early critical and commercial success for her first novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. During WWII, McCullers lived in "The February House," a Brooklyn artist's commune, where s
Writer. Born Lula Carson Smith on February 19, 1917, in Columbus, Georgia. Along with Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor, and Katherine Anne Porter, Carson McCullers was one of the leading female writers of southern gothic fiction in the twentieth century. The daughter of a jewelry store owner, she first aspired to be a musician. McCullers started piano lessons beginning at the age of ten and moved to New York City in 1934 to reportedly study at the famed Juilliard School of Music.
An earlier bout of rheumatic fever, however, left McCullers pondering her career choice. She had become interested in writing during her recovery. In New York, she abandoned music to pursue this new passion. While working a variety of jobs, McCullers took creative writing classes at Columbia University and New York University.
Success came early to this young writer. At the age of 19, McCullers had her first story, “Wunderkind,” published in the December 1936 issue of Story magazine, which was edited by her former writing teacher Whit Burnett. The story explored the painful revelation of a young girl who discovers that she is not a musical prodigy.
Around the time of the story’s publication, McCullers was in her hometown recovering from an illness. She was in a relationship with James Reeves McCullers Jr., whom she had met through a friend. The following year, the two married in September—a union that would prove to be quite stormy over the years. There was some jealousy between the pair—her husband also wrote—and both were heavy drinkers.
In 1940, McCullers received an enormous amount of critical praise and commercial success with her first novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. The work centered on a deaf-mute who finds himself the listening post for four members of a small Georgia town—a restaurant owner, a political activist, an African American doctor, and a teenaged girl. Through their stories, the characters reveal their frustrations, their loneliness, and their isolation from those around them.
While her career was taking off, McCullers was going through a difficult time personally, however. Separated from her husband, she joined several other literary and artistic talents, such as author Richard Wright and composer Leonard Bernstein, to live in a house in Brooklyn Heights, New York. Called the February House by Anais Nin, the residence was owned by Harper’s Bazaar editor George Davis.
Divorced from her husband in 1941, McCullers had mixed results with her second novel, Reflections in a Golden Eye, which was published that same year. (It had appeared earlier in Harper’s Bazaar.) It drew a number of negative reviews but had some commercial success.
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