McCullers' appeal still lukewarm in Shadowville
- McCullers' appeal still lukewarm in hometown
BY SANDRA OKAMOTO
Carson McCullers has worldwide respect for her books
but is virtually ignored in Columbus, her hometown.
An example is tonight's performance of "The Heart Is a
Lonely Hunter" in the Bill Heard Theatre of the
RiverCenter for the Performing Arts. As of Monday
morning, fewer than 500 tickets were sold. The Heard
Theatre seats 2,000.
But a Columbus State University English professor says
she's really not surprised.
"McCullers' work just doesn't have a wide, wide
appeal," Cathy Fussell said. Fussell is also the
director of the Carson McCullers Center for Writers
and Musicians. "McCullers' work is complex. If you
read or see plays for entertainment, you're not going
to be interested in McCullers."
Of the Modern Library's 100 best novels written in
English in the 20th century, McCullers is one of just
two women whose books make the top 20. Her "The Heart
Is a Lonely Hunter" came in at No. 17. Only Virginia
Woolf was higher on the list.
Retired CSU English professor Thornton Jordan says
Columbus has two writers with international acclaim.
"Carson is the most famous of the two," he said. "The
other was Nunnelly Johnson, but he was famous as a
Wanda Edwards, the community relations librarian of
the Columbus Public Library, laughs as she talks about
McCullers, who was born Lula Carson Smith.
"Before the Aflac duck, I think Carson McCullers was
probably the person or the entity people most
associated with Columbus. People from outside Columbus
know her. It may just be one of those things. Folks in
Orlando don't go to Disney World. Maybe we just take
her for granted, and that's a shame."
While Fussell said she's not surprised at the slow
ticket sales, she is baffled by the lack of interest
Columbus residents show in McCullers.
"I'm puzzled about it myself as to why more people in
Columbus aren't more interested in her," Fussell said.
"I think it's a little bit of her personal reputation
hanging on and a lot of her work doesn't have real
wide popular appeal."
McCullers was considered strange, but that was because
she didn't follow social rules, Fussell said.
"When we talk about strange in the '30s, '40s, '50s
and even in the '60s, we wouldn't bat an eye now."
Fussell said. "She wore pants when women didn't wear
pants. She smoked cigarettes when women didn't smoke
"By now, all these many years later -- she's been gone
70 odd years -- there are not a lot of people alive
who knew her."
McCullers also had strong opinions.
"She disliked a lot of things some of us dislike
today, like racial discrimination and poverty,"
Fussell said. "She didn't have a lot of friends and
didn't want to be popular in Columbus.
"Carson McCullers hasn't been a presence in Columbus
McCullers offered to leave her manuscripts to her
"spiritual home," the Columbus Public Library, in
1948. But she would not leave her papers to a library
that was segregated.
Ten years later, the library board asked for the
papers again. She wrote, "How can I, in all good
conscience, deposit these works of love in a place
where all mankind is not permitted to read, enjoy and
John R. Banister, who was the director of libraries,
replied that black citizens could go to the Fourth
Avenue Library (now the Mildred Terry) and request the
materials be sent there. "Your manuscripts, if you
were so kind to make them available to us, would
likewise be available to all borrowers at the Fourth
Avenue Library," he wrote in a letter to McCullers.
"It would thus be possible for all mankind in Columbus
'to read, enjoy and use' your manuscripts."
McCullers eventually left the majority of her work to
the University of Texas.
She left Columbus right after she graduated from
Columbus High School. And when her father died in
1944, her mother went to live with her in New York.
Jordan bought the Smith-McCullers House in 1997. He
wanted it to be open to the public and donated it to
the university in 2002. It is now the site of the
"I just wanted it as a tribute to Carson," Jordan
said. TO DO TODAY
'Lonely Hunter' at Heard
For the first time, Carson McCullers' masterpiece,
"The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter," has been adapted into
a play by Alabama playwright Rebecca Gilman.
It was commissioned by The Acting Company, which
features graduates of the drama division at the
Juilliard School in New York City.
"The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter" can be seen at 7:30
p.m. in the Bill Heard Theatre of the RiverCenter for
the Performing Arts, 900 Broadway. It's recommended
for those 14 and older.
Tickets are $32; $5 for students through college.
Call 256-3612 for more information.
CARSON McCULLERS' LIFE
1917: Born Lula Carson Smith on Feb. 19, in Columbus,
Ga., first child of Vera Marguerite "Bebe" Waters and
1933: Writes plays and her first short story,
"Sucker." Graduates from Columbus High School at age
1934: Travels by boat from Savannah to New York, where
she attends Columbia University.
1935: Spends summer in Columbus, where she meets James
Reeves McCullers Jr., who is stationed at Fort
Benning, and works as reporter for Columbus Ledger.
1936: Bedridden in Columbus, begins a story titled
"The Mute." "Wunderkind" becomes first published
1937: Marries Reeves McCullers in her parents'
Columbus home and moves to Charlotte, N.C.
1939: Finishes "The Mute," which is now titled "The
Heart Is a Lonely Hunter," and writes "Army Post,"
later published as "Reflections in a Golden Eye".
1940: "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter" published to
almost universal acclaim. Moves to Greenwich Village
with Reeves. "Reflections in a Golden Eye" published
in two issues of Harper's Bazaar. Again ill, she
returns to Columbus to recuperate, where she faces
negative reactions to "Reflections in a Golden Eye."
1941: First cerebral stroke, temporarily loses sight.
"Reflections in a Golden Eye" published. Back in New
York City, she and Reeves begin complicated three-way
relationship with composer David Diamond. "The Twisted
Trinity" is her first published poem. Files for
divorce from Reeves.
1942: After winter illnesses, continues work on novel,
"The Bride." Receives Guggenheim Fellowship.
1943: Reunites with Reeves in Atlanta. Begins to refer
to manuscript of "The Bride" as "The Member of the
1944: Reeves wounded in D-Day invasion. Carson's
father dies in Columbus and she returns to Columbus
for funeral. Carson, sister Rita and their mother move
to Nyack, N.Y.
1945: Carson and Reeves remarry.
1946: "The Member of the Wedding" published. Awarded
second Guggenheim Fellowship in mid-April. Sails with
Reeves for Europe.
1947: In three months, suffers two severe strokes;
destroys lateral vision in right eye and paralyzes
left side. Returns to United States.
1948: Carson writes letter to Columbus public library
protesting its racial segregation policy. Admitted to
Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic in New York after
suicide attempt. Later revises play "The Member of the
1950: "The Member of the Wedding" opens on Broadway.
Carson and Reeves separate.
1951: "The Member of the Wedding" closes after 501
1952: Returns to Europe with Reeves, buys house near
Paris. Inducted into the National Institute of Arts
and Letters. "The Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Collected
Short Stories" published.
1953: Reeves tries to convince Carson to commit
suicide with him, then later commits suicide in Paris
1955: Mother dies in Nyack.
1957: "The Member of the Wedding" opens at the Royal
Court Theatre, London. "The Square Root of Wonderful"
opens on Broadway, closes after 45 performances.
1960: Finishes "Clock Without Hands on December 1,"
almost 20 years after beginning the novel.
1961: Final novel, "Clock Without Hands," published.
1963: First short story, "Sucker," published in
Saturday Evening Post. Edward Albee's adaptation of
"The Ballad of the Sad Cafe" opens on Broadway.
1964: Children's book, "Sweet as a Pickle, Clean as a
1965: Receives the Prize of the Younger Generation
from German newspaper, Die Welt.
1966: Works on autobiography, "Illumination and Night
Glare." Filming begins on "Reflections in a Golden
1967: Suffers massive brain hemorrhage. Dies in the
Nyack Hospital after 47 day coma on Sept. 29. Buried
in Oak Hill Cemetery, overlooking the Hudson River in
Source: Library of America and Carlos L. Dews,
president of Carson McCullers Society
"Mirror Twins" [Will Dockery]
"Greybeard Cavalier" [0x0000/Fowler/Dockery]
Art, music, poetry of Will Dockery:
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