Through February, Columbus will be celebrating what would have been Carson McCullers’ 100th birthday by reading her classic novel, “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” and hosting a bunch of events to honor her 50 years of life. Many of those events are in the public library, an institution that McCullers always viewed as her “spiritual home.”
Here are some of the highlights of Carson McCullers’ life:
▪ 1917: Born Lula Carson Smith on Feb. 19, in Columbus, Ga., first child of Vera Marguerite (“Bebe”) Waters and Lamar Smith.
▪ 1932: Ill for several weeks during winter with rheumatic fever, which is misdiagnosed and untreated. Tells friend she has decided to write instead of being a concert pianist.
▪ 1933: Writes plays and her first short story, “Sucker.” Graduates from Columbus High School at age 16.
▪ 1934: Travels by boat from Savannah to New York, where she attends Columbia University.
▪ 1935: Spends summer in Columbus, where she meets James Reeves McCullers Jr., who is stationed at Fort Benning, and works as reporter for Columbus Ledger.
▪ 1936: Bedridden in Columbus, begins a story titled “The Mute.” “Wunderkind” becomes first published story.
▪ 1937: Marries Reeves McCullers in her parents’ Columbus home and moves to Charlotte, N.C.
▪ 1939: Finishes “The Mute,” which is now titled “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter,” and writes “Army Post,” later published as “Reflections in a Golden Eye.”
▪ 1940: “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter” published to almost universal acclaim. Moves to Greenwich Village with Reeves. “Reflections in a Golden Eye” published in two issues of Harper’s Bazaar. Again ill, she returns to Columbus to recuperate, where she faces negative reactions to “Reflections in a Golden Eye.”
▪ 1941: First cerebral stroke, temporarily loses sight. “Reflections in a Golden Eye” published. Back in New York City, she and Reeves begin complicated three-way relationship with composer David Diamond. “The Twisted Trinity” is her first published poem. Files for divorce from Reeves.
▪ 1942: After winter illnesses, continues work on novel, “The Bride.” Receives Guggenheim Fellowship.
▪ 1943: Reunites with Reeves in Atlanta. Begins to refer to manuscript of “The Bride” as “The Member of the Wedding.”
▪ 1944: Reeves wounded in D-day invasion. Carson’s father dies in Columbus and she returns to Columbus for funeral. Carson, sister Rita and their mother move to Nyack, N.Y.
▪ 1945: Carson and Reeves remarry.
▪ 1946: “The Member of the Wedding” published. Awarded second Guggenheim Fellowship in mid-April. Sails with Reeves for Europe.
▪ 1947: In three months, suffers two severe strokes; destroys lateral vision in right eye and paralyzes left side. Returns to United States.
▪ 1948: Carson writes letter to Columbus public library protesting its racial segregation policy. Admitted to Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic in New York after suicide attempt. Later revises play “The Member of the Wedding.”
▪ 1950: “The Member of the Wedding” opens on Broadway. Carson and Reeves separate.
▪ 1951: “The Member of the Wedding” closes after 501 Broadway performances.
▪ 1952: Returns to Europe with Reeves, buys house near Paris. Inducted into the National Institute of Arts and Letters. “The Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Collected Short Stories” published.
▪ 1953: Reeves tries to convince Carson to commit suicide with him, then later commits suicide in Paris hotel.
▪ 1954: Makes lecture appearances with Tennessee Williams. Meets Marilyn Monroe.
▪ 1955: Mother dies in Nyack.
▪ 1957: “The Member of the Wedding” opens at the Royal Court Theatre, London. “The Square Root of Wonderful” opens on Broadway, closes after 45 performances.
▪ 1960: Finishes “Clock Without Hands” on Dec. 1, almost 20 years after beginning the novel.
▪ 1961: Final novel, “Clock Without Hands,” published.
▪ 1962: Meets William Faulkner at West Point.
▪ 1963: First short story, “Sucker,” published in Saturday Evening Post. Edward Albee’s adaptation of “The Ballad of the Sad Cafe” opens on Broadway.
▪ 1964: Children’s book, “Sweet as a Pickle, Clean as a Pig,” published.
▪ 1965: Receives the Prize of the Younger Generation from German newspaper, Die Welt.
▪ 1966: Works on autobiography, “Illumination and Night Glare.” Filming begins on “Reflections in a Golden Eye.”
▪ 1967: Suffers massive brain hemorrhage. Dies in the Nyack Hospital after 47-day coma on Sept. 29. Buried in Oak Hill Cemetery, overlooking the Hudson River in Nyack.
Source: Library of America and Carlos L. Dews