Carson McCullers papers, 1941-1995 and undated (bulk 1945-1970), bulk 1945-1970

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McCullers, Carson, 1917-1967
Carson McCullers (1917-1967) was an author, born in Muscogee County, Ga., as Lula Carson Smith. Her husband was Reeves McCullers. Her works included The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940) and The Member of the Wedding (1946). Collection consists of correspondence between McCullers and Tennessee Williams, Dame Edith Sitwell, and cousins, Jordan Massee, Jr., and Paul Bigelow; writings by McCullers; poems by Dame Edith Sitwell; and clippings; together with correspondence from McCullers' mother, Marguerite (Waters) Smith, to Massee and Bigelow, and other papers. Topics include the relationship between McCullers and Williams and their lifestyles, health, moods, travels, residences, and attitudes toward well-known contemporary writers, and McCullers' relationship with her husband, Reeves.
1.2 Linear Feet
300 Items
Material in English
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

The Carson McCullers Papers span the years 1941-1995 and are divided into six series: Correspondence, Writings, Jordan Massee Notebooks, Photographs, Printed Materials, and Clippings. The Correspondence Series includes numerous letters from Carson McCullers to Jordan Massee, Paul Bigelow, Edith Sitwell, and other friends and family members. Most significant in the series is the correspondence between McCullers and Tennessee Williams, in which both writers touch on a variety of topics such as the writing process, health, marital problems, and their travels. Carson's relationship with her husband, Reeves McCullers, is a frequent topic.

The Writings Series, the largest in the collection, comprises typewritten manuscripts of several long as well as short published works of McCullers, including The Member of the Wedding (which has handwritten revisions) and The Clock Without Hands. Notable short writings include verses that McCullers wrote for children, an essay on literary criticism, and two short works that are inscribed and signed by the author. At the end of the series there are also two poems by Edith Sitwell.

The Jordan Massee Notebooks Series contains a catalogue that Massee compiled about the McCullers papers he owned, as well as a notebook with notes about McCullers and extracts from his journals.

The Photographs Series consists of five photographs, most of which are of Carson McCullers. Particularly noteworthy is a photograph taken by Henri Cartier-Bresson, where McCullers appears with the editor of Harper's Bazaar, George Davis.

The Printed Materials Series and the Clippings Series both contain reviews of writings by McCullers and materials related to their dramatization. The latter series includes two short essays by Tennessee Williams as well as numerous obituaries published after McCullers's death.

Biographical / historical:

Carson McCullers, born Lula Carson Smith, was an American author of novels, short stories, plays, and poetry. She was born in Columbus, Georgia, in 1917, and studied piano as a child. When she was 15, she had rheumatic fever, an illness that caused her to have strokes throughout her life (beginning in her 20s), and that contributed to her choosing writing over a career in music. She left Georgia for New York City in 1934, where she began taking creative writing classes at Columbia University and New York University. Her first short story, Wunderkind, was published in 1936.

In 1940 Carson McCullers published The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, a novel written in the Southern Gothic tradition. Subsequent works included Reflections in a Golden Eye (1941), The Member of the Wedding (1946), The Ballad of the Sad Cafe (1951), The Square Root of Wonderful (1957), and Clock without Hands (1961). Several of her works were adapted for the stage and/or film.

In 1937 Carson married Reeves McCullers. Carson and Reeves' marriage was tumultuous. They both struggled with alcoholism and depression, and their relationship was perhaps complicated by Reeves' own literary ambitions and by their romantic attachments to other people (both Reeves and Carson were bisexual).

In 1941 Carson divorced Reeves, moving to New York and eventually to Paris after World War II, where she was friends with Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote. She remarried Reeves McCullers in 1945. In Paris in 1953 Reeves tried to convince her to agree to a suicide pact; she fled, and he killed himself by taking sleeping pills.

After suffering several strokes, Carson lived with her mother and sister in Nyack, New York. She died of a brain hemorrhage at age 50 in 1967.

Acquisition information:
The Carson McCullers Papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library through purchases in 1971, 1979, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1985, and 1995. Donors include Jordan Massee, Kathleen Balten, John Ziegler, and David Battan.
Processing information:

Processed by Pavla Vesela and other staff, May 2004

Encoded by Pavla Vesela, Brittany E. Wilson, Paula Jeannet, Michael Shumate, February 2006

Accessions 10-21-1971, 1-24-1979, 7-23-1980, 9-9-1982, 3-23-1983, 10-21-1983, 7-30-1985, 1995-0074 were merged into one collection, described in this finding aid.

The Carson McCullers Papers were formerly part of a larger collection titled Collections on Carson McCullers.

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[Identification of item], Carson McCullers Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University