American Women Fiction Writers, 1900-1960 - Vol. 2

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview

CARSON McCULLERS
1917-1967

LULA CARSON SMITH was born on February 19, 1917, in Columbus, Georgia, the first of three children of Lamar and Marguerite Waters Smith.The young Carson studied music intensively and by the age of 13 was determined to become a concert pianist; during her high school years, however, she contracted rheumatic fever, and she instead decided to become a writer. She read extensively and soon completed several plays, a novel, and poetry "that nobody could make out, including the author."

In 1934, Carson went to New York and almost immediately lost all her money. To support herself, she took a series of odd jobs while studying creative writing at Columbia and New York universities in her spare time. Although often ill (she would be plagued by illnesses of sometimes great intensity throughout her life), she wrote prolifically during this period; her first work of fiction, " Wunderkind," was published in Story magazine in 1936. At about the same time, she began writing a story that would eventually become The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. The novel appeared four years later and was reviewed favorably; it was soon followed by another novel, Reflections in a Golden Eye.

In 1937, Carson had married a fellow southerner and aspiring writer, James Reeves McCullers, Jr.Both, however, were bisexual, and by 1940 the emotional strain of their various relationships became overwhelming. Carson moved into February House, the famed Brooklyn writers' enclave. She divorced Reeves in 1942 and stayed in Brooklyn until 1945, spending summers at the Yaddo Colony writers' retreat. In 1945, she remarried Reeves and moved with him to Nyack, New York.

Throughout the 1940s, McCullers continued to write; to meet important writers ( Eudora Welty, Katherine Anne Porter, and Tennessee Williams, among others); and to gather recognition for her work, including two Guggenheim Fellowships and a grant from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She published articles and short stories in Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, The Saturday Review, Decision, and The New Yorker; she completed her novels The Ballad of the Sad Café in 1943 and The Member of the Wedding in 1946; both were great successes. At the suggestion of Tennessee Williams, McCullers later dramatized The Member of the Wedding, which began a long Broadway run in 1950 and was awarded the New York Drama Critics Circle and Donaldson prizes for best play of 1950.

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