Carson McCullers – Southern American Writer

Carson McCullers, 1915, by Carl Van Vechten (source)

Carson McCullers, 1915, by Carl Van Vechten (source)

On September 29, 1967, a brain hemorrhage ended the life of Carson McCullers, a southern American writer. Her writing is often described as “Southern Gothic” and includes eccentric characters that suffer from loneliness, rejection or mistreatment. Her first novel The Heart is a Lonely Hunter was a success and became a best seller in 1940, describing the life of a deaf man in a Georgia mill town of the 1930s. Other successes followed and at least two of her books were adapted for film in the 1960s.

Born in Columbus, Georgia (US) in 1917, Lula, as she was called by family, studied piano from the age of ten and aspired to a career as a pianist, but, she also wrote stories. After graduating from high school, she headed to New York City and the Julliard School of Music. When a bout with rheumatic fever, which she had contracted at age 15, caused her to change her mind about a career in music, she turned to writing. She studied creative writing at both Columbia University and New York University and in 1936 published her first work, “Wunderkind”, about a failed musical prodigy.

In 1937, McCullers married fellow aspiring writer Reeves McCullers. They began their life together in North Carolina and in 1940, she published her first novel The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Carson and Reeves divorced in 1941 and she moved to New York City, living with George Davis, editor of “Harper’s Bazaar” and associating with others in the art community. After WWII, she spent most of her time in Paris, and she an Reeves remarried in 1945.

Throughout her life, McCullers suffered from ill health and alcoholism. During a bout of depression in 1948, she attempted suicide, but when Reeves tried to convince her to commit suicide with him in 1953 she fled. He then died of an overdose of sleeping pills in their Paris hotel room. The rheumatic fever contracted as a teenager left her weak and she suffered a series of strokes beginning when she was young. By the age of 31, she was paralyzed on her left side. After leaving Reeves in Paris, she returned to New York where she died in 1967.

Some of her other works are The Member of the Wedding, Reflections in a Golden Eye, and The Ballad of the Sad Cafe.

Find out what else happened on September 29 in Women’s History.

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