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Carson McCullers:

An Inventory of Her Collection at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center

Creator McCullers, Carson, 1917-1967
Title Carson McCullers Collection
Dates: 1924-1976
Extent 48 boxes (20 linear feet), 16 galley folders, 3 oversize flat files
Abstract: The manuscripts and correspondence which make up the bulk of the McCullers collection principally reflect her literary life and career.
RLIN Record # TXRC98-A16
Language English.
Access

Open for research




Acquisition

Purchases and gifts, 1967-1993 (R3856, 4289, 4591, 4498, 4957, 6041, 6604, 6605, 13058, G9650)

Processed by

Sally M. Nichols, 1998

Repository:

Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center University of Texas at Austin


Carson McCullers was born in Columbus, Georgia, as Lula Carson Smith on February 19, 1917, the first born of Lamar and Marguerite Waters Smith. Though she moved from the South in 1934 and only returned for visits, most of her writing was inspired by her southern heritage. Her mother felt she had given birth to a genius from the time Carson was very young and always remained her staunchest supporter and strongest ally. When nine years of age, Lula began studying piano and practiced six to eight hours daily, planning a career as a concert pianist. In 1930 she began using the name Carson and studying piano with Mary Tucker. Carson graduated from Columbus High School in 1933, and after her piano teacher moved away in the spring of 1934, Carson moved to New York City to study at the Juilliard School of Music.

Shortly after her arrival she lost most of the money her parents had given her, and to support herself worked at various jobs and attended night classes in creative writing at Columbia and New York University. She focused on short stories at first, portraying adolescent anguish and unrequited love. Carson returned to Columbus in mid 1935 where she met Reeves McCullers, a soldier, whom she married in 1937. They were divorced in 1941 but remarried in 1945. Shortly after she left him in 1953 he committed suicide.

Carson experienced success early with the publication of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter in 1940 when she was only twenty-three. Its themes foreshadowed nearly everything she wrote thereafter, namely spiritual isolation as the human condition in modern times, and her identification with, and compassion for, the underdogs and outcasts of society. Reflections in a Golden Eye (1941) was greeted by mixed reviews and was generally considered not as successful as her first novel. Carson suffered the first of several strokes in 1941, believed to be the result of a misdiagnosed case of rheumatic fever which had damaged her heart when she was fifteen.

After receiving a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1942 and a $1000 grant from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1943, McCullers was able to work on her next novel, The Member of the Wedding (1946), which again won high critical acclaim. She adapted the novel for the stage where it became a Broadway hit in 1950, running fourteen and a half months and winning the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award and the Donaldson Award. McCullers was awarded a Gold Medal by the Theatre Club, Inc. as the best playwright of the year. In 1952 the play was turned into a succcessful motion picture. The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, often considered her finest work, was published as a novella in 1951. It was adapted by Edward Albee for the Broadway stage in the 1963-1964 season but had only limited success.

Carson's next project, The Square Root of Wonderful, was her first attempt to write a play from its inception. The play went through numerous revisions and finally opened on Broadway on October 30, 1957, but received poor reviews and closed after forty-five performances. The play was published in 1958. Because of her despondency over her paralyzing strokes and the play's failure, McCullers began seeing psychiatrist Dr. Mary Mercer who had a very positive effect on her, inspiring her to continue writing, and who became a lifelong friend. Clock without Hands, her final novel, appeared in 1961. Though it made the best-seller lists for five months, it received mixed reviews in the United States and is the only one of her novels not adapted for the screen.

In addition to her five novels and two plays, McCullers wrote twenty short stories, over two dozen articles and essays, and some poetry and verse. She received numerous awards for her work throughout the years including the Prize of the Younger Generation in 1965, and the Henry Bellamann Award in 1966 in recognition of her "outstanding contribution to literature." On August 15, 1967 she suffered a stroke and remained in a coma until her death on September 29.


Carr, Virginia Spencer. The Lonely Hunter: A Biography of Carson McCullers (New York: Doubleday, 1975).

Dictionary of Literary Biography, v. 173 (Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research Co., 1996).

Evans, Oliver. Carson McCullers: Her Life and Work (London: Peter Owen, 1965).


The 48 boxes of manuscripts and correspondence which make up the bulk of the Carson McCullers Collection, 1924-1976, principally reflect her literary life and career. The material is organized into four series: I. Works, 1940-1971 (23 boxes), II. Letters, 1944-1967 (1 box), III. Recipient 1939-1967 (5 boxes), and IV. Miscellaneous, 1924-1976 (19 boxes). Within each series the material is arranged alphabetically by title or author. This collection was previously accessible only through a card catalog, but has been re-cataloged as part of a retrospective conversion project.

The Works Series consists of holograph drafts, typescripts, galley proofs, page proofs, printed pages, notes, and fragments of poems, articles, essays, memoirs, plays, stories, and novels, some unpublished. Included are many untitled articles, essays, poems, and stories. The Center has extensive manuscript holdings for McCullers' novels, Clock without Hands (1961), The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940), The Member of the Wedding (1946), including her script for stage and the musical adaptation, and Reflections in a Golden Eye (1941). Manuscripts for her collected works include Collected Short Stories and the Novel The Ballad of the Sad Cafe (1952), as well as The Mortgaged Heart (1971), edited by her sister, Margarita G. Smith. Numerous holograph drafts and typescripts for her play, The Square Root of Wonderful (1958), are found here as well. Among her stories are typescripts of "Art and Mr. Mahoney," (1949), "A Domestic Dilemma" (1951), "The Haunted Boy" (1955), "The March" (1967), "The Sojourner" (1950), and "Who Has Seen the Wind" (1956). Representative of the articles and essays found in this collection are "The Dark Brilliance of Edward Albee" (1963), "The Flowering Dream" (1959), "Home for Christmas" (1949), "A Hospital Christmas Eve" (1967), "How I Began to Write" (1948), "In Praise of Radiance" (1963), "Our Heads Are Bowed" (1945), and "The Vision Shared" (1950).

The Letters Series includes 260 letters written by McCullers to her family, including her husband Reeves, her sister, Margarita, and her mother; to literary friends such as Dawn Langley Gordon Simmons; publisher Houghton Mifflin and Company; literary agent Ann Watkins, Inc.; and her attorneys Fitelson and Mayers.

The Recipient Series contains approximately 1000 letters to McCullers including letters from fans such as Morton Ruge who wrote of the profound effect her work had on his life, and from a high school teacher, B.E. Edelstein, who mailed letters from his students to McCullers describing their reactions to her novels; from literary and artistic friends Newton Arvin, Marielle Bancou, David Diamond, Janet Flanner, Howard Mandel, Dawn Langley Simmons, and Tennessee Williams, among others; from editors André Bay and John Lackey Brown; movie director Fred Zinnemann; her biographer Oliver Evans; her physician and close friend, Mary Mercer; from literary agents Ann Watkins, Inc., Robert Lantz, Liebling-Wood, and Pearn, Pollinger, & Higham Ltd.; publishers Houghton Mifflin and Company and Mondadori Publishing Company, Inc.; attorneys Fitelson and Mayers; organizations such as the Ford Foundation and the National Institute of Arts and Letters; and her family. Additional correspondents can be identified using the Index of Correspondents located at the end of this finding aid.

The Miscellaneous Series contains various adaptations of McCullers' works including Ballad of the Sad Cafe (stage adaptation by Edward Albee and materials from the Merchant Ivory Productions film), The Member of the Wedding (French stage adaptation by André Bay and a musical adaptation by Theodore Mann and G. Wood called "F, Jasmine Addams" ), Reflections in a Golden Eye (screenplay by Chapman Mortimer, Gladys Hill, and John Huston), The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (filmscript by Thomas C. Ryan), and Clock without Hands (stage adaptation by Arthur J. Vander).

Also included here are manuscripts of articles, books, theses, and dissertations about McCullers by authors such as Hans de Vaal, Oliver Wendell Evans, Lawrence J. McCarthy, Simeon Mozart Smith, and Margaret Sue Sullivan. Especially notable is an article "Praise to Assenting Angels," by Tennessee Williams.

Works by other authors, among them Elizabeth Bowen, Katherine Garrison Chapin, David Diamond, A. E. Hotchner, Victor Sawdon Pritchett, Vinnie Williams, Vurrell Yentzen, and R. L. York, are also present in this series. Diamond's musical compositions include McCullers' "The Twisted Trinity" set to music.

This series also contains extensive third-party correspondence, much of it pertaining to McCullers and written to her sister, Margarita G. Smith, with the majority from McCullers' attorneys, Fitelson and Mayers, her publisher, Houghton Mifflin and Company, and her agent Robert Lantz. Personal items relating to McCullers are contained here such as several address books, a family Bible, various financial records such as bank records and royalty statements, materials concerning her funeral, and her will. Other items relate to her sister, Margarita G. Smith, and to her mother, Marguerite Waters Smith.

Elsewhere in the Center are forty Vertical File folders which contain playbills, reviews of McCullers' work, and newspaper articles about her life, writings, awards, and death. The Photography Collection contains over 1000 photographs of McCullers, her family, friends, and screen personalities involved in the film versions of her works. In the Personal Effects Collection are numerous articles of clothing, among other things.


Correspondents

Arvin, Newton, 1900-1963

Bay, André

Crawford, Cheryl, 1902-1986

Diamond, David, 1915-

Evans, Oliver Wendell, 1915-

Lantz, Robert

Liever, Maxim

McCullers, Reeves, 1913-1953

Mercer, Mary

Schwarzenbach, Annemarie, 1908-1942

Simmons, Dawn Langley

Smith, Margarita G.

Williams, Tennessee, 1911-1983

Organizations

Ann Watkins, Inc.

Fitelson and Mayers

Houghton Mifflin and Company

Liebling-Wood

Pearn, Pollinger, & Higham Ltd.

Subjects

Authors, American

Women and literature--Southern states

American drama

Document Types

Address books

Awards

Christmas cards

Financial records

Galley proofs

Genealogical tables

Playbills

Postcards

Scores

Wills