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Carson McCullers
Carson McCullers
Carson McCullers (1917–1967) was the author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, including The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, The Member of the Wedding, Reflections in a Golden Eye, and Clock Without Hands. Born in Columbus, Georgia, on February 19, 1917, she became a promising pianist and enrolled in the Juilliard School of Music in New York when she was seventeen, but lacking money for tuition, she never attended classes. Instead she studied writing at Columbia University, which ultimately led to the publication of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, the novel that made her an overnight literary sensation. On September 29, 1967, at age fifty, she died in Nyack, New York, where she is buried.


The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
In 1938 Carson McCullers, a twenty-one-year-old writing student living in New York, submitted an outline and six chapters of a novel, "The Mute," to Houghton Mifflin. It was read by several editors there, all of whom agreed that she was a writer of exceptional promise. "I think the author . . . will produce a book of literary distinction. It will be a spellbinder . . . No doubt here is genuine young talent,1 modern talent." Houghton Mifflin's editor in chief, Paul Brooks, and the trade director, Ferris Greenslet, offered her a book contract with an advance of five hundred dollars. McCullers completed the novel the following year and, at the welcome suggestion of Houghton Mifflin, retitled it The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, a phrase taken from the poem "The Lonely Hunter" by Fiona Macleod, the pseudonym of William Sharp. In a letter to McCullers's agent, Maxim Lieber, dated November 16, 1939, Brooks accepted the final draft of the novel for publication and said, "It is a book which we should be proud to have on our list. We feel that the final revisions have been very successful, and we should expect to get good reviews from the more discerning critics." The novel was published on June 4, 1940, to extraordinary acclaim, and McCullers, hailed as a child prodigy, became a literary phenomenon.


Critics called the young writer a real find whose novel revealed a new tone, a true writer's sensibility.2 The New York Times called it, "a remarkable book . . . [McCullers] writes with a sweep and certainty that are overwhelming." Richard Wright, in the New Republic, said, "To me the most impressive aspect of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is the astonishing humanity that enables a white writer, for the first time in Southern fiction, to handle Negro characters with as much ease and justice as those of her own race." And the Saturday Review of Literature commented, "This is an extraordinary novel to have been written by a young woman; but the more important fact is that it is an extraordinary novel in its own right, considerations of authorship apart." In the Boston Evening Transcript, May Sarton observed, "We have waited a long time for a new writer, and now one has appeared it is an occasion for hosannahs . . . It is hard to think that we shall have to wait a year or two before we can expect another book from this extraordinary young woman."

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter was translated into some fifteen languages, and in 1968 was made into a major motion picture starring Alan Arkin and Sondra Locke, both of whom were nominated for Oscars. The Modern Library named the book one of the top one hundred works of fiction of the twentieth century. Houghton Mifflin remained Carson McCullers's publisher throughout her career, during which she produced five novels, two plays, twenty short stories, two dozen nonfiction pieces, a book of children's verse, and a handful of distinguished poems.3 She worked with a select few editors over the years, but she enjoyed a unique kinship with Robert Linscott, who had been one of the first fans of her work. She met him in New York in the summer of 1941, and later she would visit him and his family in Boston. There is a long history of mutual admiration between Houghton and McCullers. In a letter to Ferris Greenslet, dated November 14, 1941, McCullers wrote, "Houghton Mifflin has treated me so handsomely, and believe me, I appreciate it . . . Later on, I wish H.M. would let or make Bob [Linscott] come down for a visit here. We have such good music." In 1941 Greenslet sponsored McCullers for a Guggenheim fellowship, which enabled her to travel to Europe in 1942. In a December 23, 1941, letter to McCullers, Linscott wrote, "All your friends in New York are so concerned for you. Really, Carson, you do float in a sea of love. I've never seen such devotion."

After her death in 1967, Houghton Mifflin published one last volume of previously uncollected writings, The Mortgaged Heart, edited by Carson's sister Rita. Today, as always, Carson McCullers remains an integral part of Houghton's longstanding commitment to — and legacy of — discovering new writers and supporting and nurturing them throughout their careers.

Don't miss the reader's guide


Works by Carson McCullers available from Houghton Mifflin/Mariner Books:


The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
The beloved classic, Carson McCullers's first novel tells an unforgettable story of moral isolation in a small Georgia mill town in the 1930s.


Reflections in a Golden Eye
Reflections in a Golden Eye
McCullers's second novel delineates the passions and jealousies between Captain Penderton and his tempestuous and flirtatious wife, Leonora.


Clock Without Hands
Clock Without Hands
Set in small-town Georgia on the eve of court-ordered integration, Clock Without Hands is McCullers's final masterpiece as well as her most poignant statement on race, class, and individual responsibility.


Collected Stories of Carson McCullers
Collected Stories of Carson McCullers
The novellas and stories collected here span McCullers's career and explore her signature themes: wounded adolescence, loneliness in marriage, and the human comedy as played out in the American South.


The Member of the Wedding
The Member of the Wedding
The novel that became an award-winning play and a major motion picture, The Member of the Wedding tells the story of the inimitable twelve-year-old Frankie, who is utterly, hopelessly bored with life until she hears about her older brother's upcoming wedding.

Coming soon in small-format trade paperback.

1From a readerís report, Houghton Mifflin archives, Houghton Library, Harvard University
2From Carson McCullers: A Life by Josyane Savigneau
3From Virginia Spencer Carrís introduction to Collected Stories of Carson McCullers



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