Carson McCullers is often mentioned in one breath with such preeminent figures of Southern literature as her contemporaries Flannery O'Connor and Eudora Welty. Unlike O'Connor and Welty, McCullers left the South at seventeen and lived mainly in New York and Paris for all her adult life, yet her settings and characters are frequently Southern.
Born Lula Carson Smith, she moved to New York at seventeen to study piano but ended up studying creative writing at Columbia and NYU instead. There she published her first story in 1936 and, in 1937, married Reeves McCullers, a serviceman and aspiring writer. They moved to North Carolina, living there for two years, during which time she wrote The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. The marriage was a tempestuous one, marked by separations and reunions, divorce and remarriage, alcoholism and suicide attempts. Reeves McCullers died in 1953 from an overdose of alcohol and barbituates, an apparent suicide.
Carson McCullers' adult life was a mixture of emotional unhappiness and bad health, but with luminous talent she drew upon her empathy and experience to compose resonant, ballad-like stories about the inner lives of marginal, often physically or psychologically scarred characters who were tormented by loneliness. Her best-known novel is probably The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940), about a boarding-house cast of characters in a Southern mill town who are drawn to confide in a deaf-mute.
McCullers also received critical acclaim for The Member of the Wedding (1946), which describes the joys and frustrating loneliness of a twelve-year-old girl in the days surrounding her brother's wedding. These novels, as well as McCullers' Reflections in a Golden Eye (1942). a psychological horror story set on a Southern military base, were all eventually adapted as movies. The Broadway production of The Member of the Wedding (for which McCullers wrote the script) had an award-winning run in 1950-51.
Best known for her novels and their dramatic adaptations, she also published an original play and a book of poetry for children and she received acclaim for her shorter works. She won an O. Henry Award for her short story "A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud" and the New York Times Book Review said her novella, The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, was "one of the finest novels ever written by an American."
Photo courtesy of the Carl Van Vechten collection and the Library of Congress.
The following editions of works by Carson McCullers are found in the Hall of Fame collection of the Hargrett Library:
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1940.
Reflections in a Golden Eye. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1941.
Hjartat Jagar Allena. Stockholm: Hugo Gebers Forlag, 1941.
Hjertet Er En Ensom Vandrer. Copenhagen: Hagerup, 1941.
Historien om et Mord. Hagerup, Copenhagen, 1942.
Spegling I Ett Gyllne Oga. Stockholm: Gebers, 1943.
The Member of the Wedding. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1946.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Cleveland: World, 1946.
Brollopsgasten. Stockholm: Hugo Gebers Forlag, 1947.
Bryllupsgaesten. Copenhagen: Aschehoug Dansk Forlag, 1948.
The Member of the Wedding: A Play. New York: New Directions, 1951.
The Ballad of the Sad Café: The Novels and Stories of Carson McCullers. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1951.
Balladen om den bedrovelige Café. Copenhagen: Glydendal,1953.
Die Mär von der glücklosen Schenke. Stuttgart: Reclam, 1954.
Seven. New York: Bantam, 1954.
Balladem om Den Bedrovelige Kafe. Oslo: Aschehoug, 1955.
Le Coeur est un Chasseur Solitaire. Club des Libraires de France, 1955?
Coracao Solitatio Cacador. Lisbon: Estudios Cor, 1958.
The Square Root of Wonderful; a play. London: Cresset, 1958.
Balada do Cafe Triste. Contos e Novelas. Lisbon: Estudios Cor, 1959.
Reflexos Nuns Olhos de Oiro. Lisbon: Estudios Cor, 1959.
Het Hart Is Een Havik. Amsterdam: N.V. De Arbeiderspears, 1960.
Dama I Njen Vojnik. Frankie. Matica Hrvatska, Zagreb, 1961.
Klocka Utan Visare. Stockholm: Albert Bonniers, 1961.
Clock Without Hands. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1961.
Uret Uden Viser. Copenhagen: Glydendal, 1962.
De Ballade van de Droeve Herberg. Rotterdam: Donker, 1963.
Klokke Uten Visere. H. Aschehoug & Co., 1963.
Kello Kay Tyhjaa. Helsinki: Otava, 1964.
Sweet as a Pickle and Clean as a Pig. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1964.
Balado o Smutnej Kaviarni. Slovensky Spisovatel, Bratislava, 1967.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1967.
The Mortgaged Heart. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1971.
The Ballad of the Sad Café. Hong Kong: World Today Press, 1975.
Sucker. Tale Blazer, Logan, 1979.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Taipei: Shu Lin (Book Forest), 1979.
The Haunted Boy. Tale Blazer, Logan, 1979.
Sucker. Mankato, Minn.: Creative Education, Inc., 1985.
Collected Stories of Carson McCullers, Including The Member of the Wedding and The Ballad of the Sad Café. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987.
Illumination and Night Glare: The Unfinished Autobiography of Carson McCullers. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1999.
Carson McCullers' The Member of the Wedding. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2005
Carson McCullers' The Ballad of the Sad Cafe. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2005
Carson McCullers: Stories, Plays & Other Writings. New York: Modern Library, 2017.
The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin holds a large collection of McCullers's manuscripts, galley and page proofs, correspondence, photographs, and other memorabilia.
Duke University's Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library also holds a substantial number of letters between McCullers, other writers and various correspondents.