Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: Twentieth Century)
Article abstract: A Southern novelist and short-story writer, Carson McCullers presented in her fiction a world of alienated adolescents, misfits, and outcasts, treating themes of human isolation with great sensitivity.
Carson McCullers was born Lula Carson Smith, the daughter of Lamar Smith, a watchmaker, and Marguerite Waters Smith. For generations, Smith’s family had been Southerners, so her family history, as well as her own childhood and adolescence, deepened her relationship with the South. It was in ramblings through Columbus’ streets and the disparate quarters of African Americans, millworkers, and the wealthy that she gained the many impressions that enrich her fictional world. Carson was recognized as an odd, lively girl with artistic talents, and her passion for music and writing was encouraged. She studied the piano assiduously and as an adolescent wrote some violence-filled plays (patterned after those of Eugene O’Neill), a novel, and some poetry. An early short story, “Sucker,” about a sixteen-year-old boy whose first friendship causes him to reject the affection of a younger brother, demonstrates her precocity. She changed her name, read voraciously, and earned a reputation for having a phenomenal memory. Although in all her work Carson McCullers focuses on alienated individuals, she herself grew up in a harmonious family that accepted her eccentricities and extended her their...
(The entire section is 2115 words.)
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Born in Columbus, Georgia, in 1917, young Lula Carson Smith studied for years as a concert pianist, practicing five hours a day. Like the character Frances in ‘‘Wunderkind’’ (her first published story), she was devastated as a teenager by the realization that she would be unable to fulfill her high ambitions and expectations for a musical career. However, she soon transferred her energies to another artistic calling, and by the age of 23 had become a bestselling and critically acclaimed writer. Despite a troubled marriage and a series of disabling strokes that would cut her life short at age 50, Carson McCullers produced a body of work that has made her one of the most-admired writers of her generation, and one of the most enduring authors of the American Southern literary tradition.
Her childhood musical ambitions are particularly significant in regard to this story, which critics routinely classify as being ‘‘obviously autobiographical.’’ Born into comfortable surroundings, young Carson was encouraged to develop her talents. From the age of six, when she first expressed an interest, her parents provided her with a fine piano and the best available instructors. Unlike Mr. Bilderbach in ‘‘Wunderkind,’’ the author’s musical mentor was a woman, Mary Tucker. When the former concert pianist moved to Columbus, Carson became her only pupil. McCullers studied with Tucker for four years, forming a close bond with her teacher. At fifteen,...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
The southern writer William Faulkner said the only thing worth writing about is “the human heart in conflict with itself.” By that standard, few have surpassed Carson McCullers, for she probed the tormented recesses of inner emotions. Tracking problems of loneliness and love to their lair within the heart, she found joy mingled with suffering so intense that her characters may seem grotesque. Nevertheless, her readers gain insights into life as it actually is lived. Neither sentimental nor moralistic, McCullers’s novels make a more solid impact on the imagination than does merely sensational or experimental fiction.
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Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Carson McCullers, born Lula Carson Smith, was reared in a small southern town, a milieu that she used in much of her fiction. Exhibiting early talent in both writing and music, she intended to become a concert pianist but lost her tuition money for the Juilliard School of Music when she went to New York in 1935. This loss led her to get part-time jobs while studying writing at Columbia University. She earned early acclaim for her first novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, written when she was only twenty-two. Her friends included many prominent writers, including Tennessee Williams, W. H. Auden, Louis MacNeice, and Richard Wright. Her health was always delicate; she suffered early paralyzing strokes, breast cancer, and pneumonia. She stayed remarkably active in literature and drama, however, even when confined to bed and wheelchair. She died of a stroke at the age of fifty.
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Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Carson McCullers was born Lula Carson Smith on February 19, 1917, in Columbus, Georgia. Marguarite Smith, McCullers’s mother, was very early convinced that her daughter was an artistic genius and sacrificed herself and, to some extent, McCullers’s father, brother, and sister, to the welfare of her gifted child. McCullers grew up, therefore, with a peculiar kind of shyness and emotional dependence on her mother, combined with supreme self-confidence about her abilities. McCullers announced early in life that she was going to be a concert pianist, and she indeed displayed a precocious talent in that direction. Smith placed her daughter under the tutelage of Mary Tucker, a concert musician, who agreed that McCullers was talented.
McCullers came to love Tucker and her family with an all-consuming passion, a pattern she was to follow with a number of other close friends during her life. Mary Mercer, a psychiatrist friend of McCullers during her later years, suggested that the emotional devastation of the adolescent girl in The Member of the Wedding, when she was not allowed to accompany her beloved brother and his bride on their honeymoon, was an expression of McCullers’s despair when the Tuckers moved away from her hometown. She seemed to experience every break in human contact as personal betrayal or tragedy.
Writing was also an early enthusiasm of McCullers. As a child, she created shows to be acted by herself and her siblings in...
(The entire section is 1474 words.)
Carson McCullers was born Lula Carson Smith in Columbus, Georgia, a small town that resembles the setting of most of her works. As a child, McCullers studied the piano and was considered a prodigy, much like the main character in her critically acclaimed short story “Wunderkind” (1936), which is about fifteen-year-old Frances’ aspirations to become a great pianist and her awakened sexuality. Like many of McCullers’ short stories, “Wunderkind” is written in the Bildungsroman tradition, portraying adolescent initiation and search for identity. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and The Member of the Wedding also portray adolescent females searching for identity and struggling with complex internal questions. Clock Without Hands (1961) illustrates adolescent initiation experiences defined as a young mulatto man’s search for knowledge of his birth parents and his African American heritage.
McCullers’ portrayal of African American identities often demonstrates racial social injustices that occurred in America before the Civil Rights movement. Racial bias intensifies her African American characters’ isolated feelings.
When she was seventeen, McCullers moved to New York, where she studied creative writing at Columbia University. Although she frequently returned to the South because of recurring illnesses, she felt ambivalent about her Southern heritage, saying her visits to the South brought about “a stirring...
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Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: The 20th Century)
Carson McCullers was born Lula Carson Smith, the daughter of Lamar Smith, a watchmaker, and Marguerite Waters Smith. For generations, Smith’s family had been Southerners, so her family history, as well as her own childhood and adolescence, deepened her relationship with the South. It was in ramblings through Columbus’ streets and the disparate quarters of African Americans, millworkers, and the wealthy that she gained the many impressions that enrich her fictional world. Carson was recognized as an odd, lively girl with artistic talents, and her passion for music and writing was encouraged. She studied the piano assiduously and as an adolescent wrote some violence-filled plays (patterned after those of Eugene O’Neill), a novel, and some poetry. An early short story, “Sucker,” about a sixteen-year-old boy whose first friendship causes him to reject the affection of a younger brother, demonstrates her precocity. She changed her name, read voraciously, and earned a reputation for having a phenomenal memory. Although in all her work Carson McCullers focuses on alienated individuals, she herself grew up in a harmonious family that accepted her eccentricities and extended her their affection.
At eighteen, Carson traveled to New York, purportedly to attend the...
(The entire section is 2581 words.)
Biography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Carson McCullers’s life was one beset by intolerable illnesses and complex personal relationships. The last twenty years of her life were spent in the shadow of constant physical pain, but like her fellow southerner Flannery O’Connor, she continued working in spite of her handicaps, seldom complaining. She was married twice to the same man, an emotional cripple who drained her financially and psychically and who ultimately killed himself. That she left behind her a magnificent body of work and any number of devoted friends when she died at the tragically young age of fifty is a testament to the courage with which overwhelming obstacles can be overcome.
McCullers knew at first hand the small-town South that figures so prominently in her best writing. As the eldest of the three children of Lamar and Marguerite (Waters) Smith, Lula Carson Smith spent a normal middle-class childhood in the racially segregated mill town of Columbus, Georgia. Her father, like Mr. Kelly in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and Mr. Addams in The Member of the Wedding, was a jeweler who spent much of his time at work. Her mother, a lively, cultured woman and a strong influence throughout McCullers’s life, encouraged her daughter’s intellectual and artistic pursuits. By the age of fourteen, Carson Smith had dropped the Lula from her name and had announced her intention to become a concert pianist. She was by then practicing the piano several hours a day and...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Lula Carson Smith McCullers is widely regarded as one of the finest writers of the twentieth century, though critics argue over whether her writing should be classified as southern gothic or metaphysical. McCullers, who was born in Columbus, Georgia, on February 19, 1917, did not aspire to become a writer at all. Her parents, Lamar and Marguerite (Waters) Smith, had started her on piano lessons at a very early age, and music was the career forecast for her; a music teacher, Mary Tucker, played a large part in her early life. At the age of seventeen, McCullers was sent to the Juilliard School of Music in New York to become a concert pianist. By the time McCullers had arrived in New York, however, she had already lost her enthusiasm for music and had switched to literature and what would be a lifelong passion, writing. McCullers did not attend Juilliard, perhaps equally as a result of disinterest, ill health, and money problems. Instead, she worked at odd jobs and studied writing at Columbia University and New York University from 1934 to 1936.
In 1935, she met Reeves McCullers, a young serviceman home on leave; they were married on September 20, 1937. She met Reeves in Columbus, where she had returned because of illness. During her senior year in high school, McCullers had suffered a severe bout of rheumatic fever, though it was not diagnosed...
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Carson McCullers was born Lula Carson Smith in Columbus, Georgia, on February 19, 1917. Like the adolescent girl Frankie in her novel, The Member of the Wedding, McCullers renamed herself at age thirteen, dropping her first name in favor of her middle name. Her parents, Lamar Smith, a jeweler, and Marguerite Waters Smith, provided their three children with a comfortable middle-class life. Carson was their first born child, and they considered her an artistic genius and encouraged her interests, especially music. Lynne Greeley, writing in Theatre History Studies, refers to Carson McCullers as ‘‘the preferred child’’ in her family.
McCullers is known primarily for her novels, but she also wrote two plays, a number of short stories, children’s poetry, and other works. Most of her work is set in the American South and involves people struggling with loneliness and feelings of isolation. Many critics place her among the best southern writers, along with William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, and Tennessee Williams.
McCullers felt that she was an outsider and a loner. Her school days were marked by mediocre grades and the stares of fellow students at her eccentric dress and gangly height of nearly five feet, nine inches. When she was fifteen, she contracted rheumatic fever. From that point on, her life was a constant struggle with illness and physical discomfort. As soon as she graduated from high school, McCullers left...
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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.
IntroductionLula Carson Smith, better known as Carson McCullers, could not hold a job. “I was always fired,” she once told an interviewer. “My record is perfect on that. I never quit a job in my life.” But that did not hurt her real career at all. McCullers burst onto the literary scene in 1940 with her first novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. She went on to write The Ballad of the Sad Café and The Member of the Wedding, among other well-received works. Her writing is marked by tragedy and Southern gothic themes along the lines of Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Connor.
- McCullers began her creative life as a piano protege and enrolled at Julliard at the age of 17. During her time there, she was ill and never went to class.
- The Member of the Wedding is McCullers most famous work. It was adapted for the stage in 1950 and into a 1952 film starring Julie Harris.
- McCullers often explored homosexual themes in her novels. In fact, her own marriage ended when she took a female lover and her husband took a male lover.
- In 1953, her husband, whom she had divorced and remarried, tried to get her to commit suicide with him. She fled and he killed himself in their Paris hotel room.
- McCullers health was always poor, and she died of a stroke at the age of 50.
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Carson McCullers The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter Criticism
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Born Lula Carson Smith, McCullers was raised in a town near a big Army post in rural southwest Georgia by a successful jeweler and a remarkable mother who encouraged her genius. An aloof, precocious child, she longed to be rich and famous and live in the snowy North. By the age of eight years, she was producing little plays with neighbor children. At ten she took piano lessons and aspired to play concerts onstage. It is said that she read every worthwhile book in the local library. At fifteen, she came down with rheumatic fever, misdiagnosed at the time, which led to debilitating illnesses later.
After high school, her parents sold heirloom jewelry so she could sail to New York and study at the prestigious Juilliard School of music. Unfortunately, the money was lost on the subway, and she was forced to work odd jobs to pay for courses in creative writing. During a summer vacation in Georgia, Carson was introduced to Reeves McCullers, a charming, handsome, and intelligent soldier who soon left the Army to join her at Columbia University. When she took ill, Reeves brought her home, where they were married on September 20, 1937. McCullers followed her husband to Charlotte, where he found work as a debt collector, and then to Fayetteville, an Army town much like Columbus. There she finished her first novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940), and wrote her second, Reflections in a Golden Eye (1941), not for publication, she later said, but...
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McCullers was born Lulu Carson Smith on February 19, 1917, in Columbus, Georgia. Her family had deep roots in the South: her great-grandfather, Major John Carson, owned a two-thousand acre plantation with seventy-five slaves before the Northern army burned the plantation and freed the slaves during the Civil War. Her father, Lamar Smith, was a watchmaker, like Mick Kelly’s father, and owned a jewelry shop like the one John Singer works in. From early childhood, Lulu Carson was expected to achieve great fame, and while she was growing up her parents did what they could to encourage her interest in music. She started formal piano lessons at age ten, and progressed swiftly through her studies in music, which were intense and consuming. After a bout with pneumonia at age fifteen, she started to question whether she had the stamina to be a concert pianist, and turned her attention to writing. She kept her parents believing that she was interested in music, and so when she was seventeen she was sent to New York to study at the Juilliard School, but when she arrived, she enrolled at Columbia University, which had better creative writing teachers, including Sylvia Chatfield Bates, who was a major influence. While home for the summer in 1936 she met Jim Mc- Cullers, an army corporal who was also interested in writing, and the following summer they were married. Living in North Carolina with him, Mc- Cullers was able to devote all of her time to writing: in a few months, she...
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