Carson McCullers: Columbus’s Literary History

Celebrating One of Columbus’s Forefront Authors for International Women’s History Month


Angel Glover

Columbus’s standout literary figure is Carson McCullers, best known for her 1940 debut novel, “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” McCullers was born in Columbus in 1917, graduated from Columbus High School, and subsequently moved to New York, where she died in Nyack, in 1967. Columbus State University now holds both McCullers’s childhood home in Columbus, and her adulthood home in Nyack as donations, as well as many of her personal belongings and documents.

McCullers wrote in the Southern Gothic genre alongside figures like William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Cormac McCarthy, and Tennessee Williams. Her works often focused on the experiences of outcasts in small Southern towns; characters from a range of races, abilities, and sexualities are found throughout.

McCullers experienced many physical and mental health issues over her life, including rheumatic heart disease and recurrent strokes. Although she never explicitly stated her sexual orientation, McCullers had various intense infatuations with other women. Her empathy for the outsiders in history has allowed her books to age gracefully in the current, more inclusive era.

Throughout her career, McCullers published four novels, many short stories, and two plays. “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” was published when she was just 23 and follows a deaf and mute man’s life among other outsiders in a small Southern town heavily based upon Columbus. “Reflections in a Golden Eye,” published soon after, is the story of an Army major’s repressed feelings around one of his soldiers. “The Member of the Wedding” is a novella about a young girl, bored with life in her small town, who yearns to participate in her brother’s wedding. Her final novel, “Clock Without Hands,” takes the perspective of a dying man watching as racial relations change around him.

The CSU Archives and Special Collections lie in the basement of the Simon Schwob Memorial Library on the main campus. Visitors to the Archives can see Carson McCullers’s actual personal library of books, which were donated to the university by her psychiatrist and friend Mary E. Mercer, MD. The collection is a fascinating glimpse into the author’s influences, including names like Tolstoy, Chekhov, Faulkner, Joyce, and Hemingway. McCullers’s love of cooking is also revealed by her collection of more than twenty cookbooks. The Archives also contain an extensive collection of other secondary sources, including Mercer’s detailed archives on McCullers and research by McCullers’s biographers.

Columbus State University accepted Carson McCullers’s childhood home in the 2000s as a donation and has since converted it into the Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians. The Center serves as both a museum of the author’s life and a residency for writers. Writers awarded the Marguerite and Lamar Smith Fellowship for Writers are given residency within the home over the fall semester, focusing on their work, meeting students, and engaging with the community.

The Center also holds the Carson McCullers Literary Festival each year – Uproar staff member Jonathan Stringfellow was awarded a Carson McCullers’ Literary Award at the 2023 event. McCullers’s Nyack home was left to the university by Mercer in 2013 and is now used as an event center and artist residency.

The Carson McCullers Center is currently undergoing renovations, so the museum is closed, but McCullers’s library can still be visited at the Archives in the meantime. All of Carson McCullers’s books are available on the third floor of the Schwob Library, as well as biographies and critical reviews about her and her work.