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McCullers' appeal still lukewarm in Shadowville

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  • Will Dockery
    McCullers appeal still lukewarm in hometown BY SANDRA OKAMOTO Carson McCullers has worldwide respect for her books but is virtually ignored in Columbus, her
    Message 1 of 1 , May 3 9:45 AM
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      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
      screenplay writer."

      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
      publicly.

      "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
      since 1933."

      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
      use them?"

      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
      McCullers Center.

      "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
      Lamar Smith.

      1933: Writes plays and her first short story,
      "Sucker." Graduates from Columbus High School at age
      16.

      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
      story.

      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
      Wedding."

      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
      Wedding."

      1950: "The Member of the Wedding" opens on Broadway.
      Carson and Reeves separate.

      1951: "The Member of the Wedding" closes after 501
      Broadway performances.

      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
      hotel.

      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
      Pig," published.

      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
      Eye."

      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
      Nyack.

      Source: Library of America and Carlos L. Dews,
      president of Carson McCullers Society

      --
      "Mirror Twins" [Will Dockery]
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      "Greybeard Cavalier" [0x0000/Fowler/Dockery]
      http://www.lulu.com/items/26000/26663/preview/Track__1.mp3



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