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COLUMBUS: CARSON McCULLERS

Carson McCullers, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1959In our old Georgia home we used to have two sitting rooms -- a back one and a front one -- with folding doors between. These were the family living rooms and the theatre of my shows. The front sitting room was the auditorium, the back sitting-room the stage. The sliding doors the curtain. Carson McCullers, writing about her home at 1519 Stark Avenue, Columbus.

The young Carson McCullers dropped a final curtain on her sitting-room shows "when I first discovered Eugene O'Neill." She was introduced to O'Neill at the Columbus library, and shortly afterwards, she put the gentle family plays of her childhood behind her. By age sixteen, McCullers had written her first short story, Sucker, and at twenty-three, she published her first novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Columbus is undeniably a character in the novel. Nearby Fort Benning plays an unidentified role in her second novel, Reflections in a Golden Eye.

Columbus overlooks the Chattahoochee River where the waterway separates the Alabama and Georgia borders. Before the Civil War, the riverport connected the plantations of the region to the international cotton market, and the city prospered into one of the South's most important industrial towns. Industry helped Columbus to survive Reconstruction with a financial health
that most Southern cities could not attain. Today, the city is a model for historic preservation that allies positively with community and commercial growth.

  Smith-McCullers House, childhood home of Carson McCullers Carson McCullers  Historical marker for Lummus Cotton Gins  
 

Smith-McCullers House, childhood home of Carson McCullers

Carson McCullers

 Historical marker for Lummus Cotton Gins

 

Like the rest of the nation, however, Columbus suffered during the Great Depression. McCullers never forgot the suffering she witnessed during her childhood. In The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, McCullers writes of factories - cotton mills - whose workers bear "the desperate look of hunger and loneliness." Young Lula Carson Smith also struggled with the injustices of racial segregation, another theme within The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and The Member of the Wedding. She lived briefly and died at fifty from the series of strokes that began during her youth; she contracted rheumatic fever at the age of fifteen. During her life, as after it, Carson Smith McCullers received great praise for her work from her peers, audiences and readers.

  House on Broadway Top Hat Cafe Welcome Sign, Ma Rainey House Ma Rainey's House  
 

House on Broadway

Top Hat Cafe  Welcome Sign,
Ma Rainey House 

Ma Rainey's House 

 
 

Tennessee Williams and Carson McCullers were close friends. In 1946, they summered together in a cottage on Nantucket. As he wrote Summer and Smoke at one end of the dining room table, she wrote the stage version of Member of the Wedding at the other. Williams wrote McCullers from Italy on February 8, 1948, with passages that reflect the emotional depth of their friendship: Whenever you are strong enough you must come back here and join me. I say here in Europe for I feel that this is the place for us both, especially here in Italy, this place of soft weather and golden light and of great bunches of violets and carnations sold on every corner and the Greek ideal surviving so tangibly in the grace and beauty of the people and the antique sculpture as well.

  Antebellum house Riverfront Mills Statue of Dr. John Pemberton, originator of Coca-Cola's formula  
 

Antebellum house

Riverfront Mills 

Statue of Dr. John Pemberton,
originator of Coca-Cola's formula 

 

Today the hometown of Carson McCullers is a travel destination for bountiful gardens, Greek Revival homes and classic Americana. Columbus celebrates its rich African-American history with Black Heritage tours that include the home of "Ma" Rainey, the "Mother of the Blues."

The Smith-McCullers House is operated by Columbus State University as both a museum and a place to celebrate the writer who once staged her plays behind the sliding doors that separated the sitting rooms. From her beginnings as an artist in the Stark Avenue house, McCullers appreciated the human condition. In the words of Richard Wright, another admirer and friend, she had an ability to "embrace white and black humanity in one sweep of apprehension and tenderness."

  Rankin House  Chattahoochee Riverfront Cottage on Broadway  
 

Rankin House

Chattahoochee Riverfront 

Cottage on Broadway 

 

 

  New Georgia Encyclopedia

For more information on Carson McCullers, link here to her listing in the New Georgia Encyclopedia supported by the Georgia Humanities Council.

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Carson McCullers


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