Carson McCullers was born Lula Carson Smith on February 19, 1917, in Columbus, Georgia. Mc- Cullers’s mother had early intuitions that her daughter was destined for greatness. Consequently, as a child, McCullers was lavished with attention by her mother to the exclusion of her two other siblings. Her musical ability became apparent at an early age, and when she graduated from high school, she was sent to the prestigious Juilliard School of Music in New York City. Because her family could not afford such an expensive school, they sold a family heirloom ring to pay the tuition. Before she enrolled, however, McCullers’s roommate lost all of their money, and McCullers was forced to take odd jobs instead of attending Juilliard. She enrolled in writing classes at Columbia and New York University where her ability to write compelling fiction developed.
In 1936, McCullers met an army corporal named James Reeves McCullers. They married the following year, beginning a tumultuous marriage. Her writing career took off in 1939 with the publication of her critically acclaimed novel The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. That same year, McCullers began writing The Member of the Wedding, a novel she would work on for seven years. Her other works include The Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Reflections in a Golden Eye.
McCullers and her husband separated and reconciled numerous times. In addition, the mid-1940s brought the beginning of McCullers’s health problems, including recurrent influenza and pleurisy. Her failing health did not stop the couple from traveling extensively around Europe, however, until she suffered a debilitating stroke at the age of thirty. In 1948, she attempted suicide. By 1953, when her husband tried to talk her into a double suicide, she was no longer interested in taking her life so she left him in France to return home. Soon after, he killed himself.
Unable to write much in the last years of her life because of further strokes, McCullers became quite eccentric, opting to wear white almost constantly. She often gave interviews wearing white nightgowns and tennis shoes. She underwent surgeries to repair damage from strokes, a heart attack, and a broken hip, and she had a cancerous breast removed. On August 15, 1967, McCullers suffered from a massive brain hemorrhage and fell into a forty-seven-day coma. She died on September 28 and is buried beside her mother in Oak Hill Cemetery in Nyack, New York.
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