The Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians is dedicated to preserving the legacy of Carson McCullers; to nurturing American writers and musicians; to educating young people; and to fostering the literary and musical life of Columbus, the State of Georgia, and the American South. To that end, the Center operates a museum in McCullers’ childhood home in Columbus, Georgia, presents extensive educational and cultural programs for the community, maintains an ever-growing archive of materials related to the life and work of McCullers, and offers fellowships for writers and composers who live for periods of time in the Smith-McCullers home in Columbus.
The Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians (affiliated with Columbus State University) was founded in 2003 when then-CSU literature professor Thornton Jordan donated Carson McCullers’ childhood home to the Columbus State University Foundation. The home, in a residential neighborhood in historic MidTown Columbus, acts as a museum and event space open for use by the surrounding community. As a museum, the Smith-McCullers home offers educational exhibit photos and panels that tell the story of Carson McCullers’ life and success and also houses many items related to McCullers: original portraits by artists Emanuel Romano and Marcel Vertes; rare editions of McCullers’ books; and McCullers’ typewriter, record-player, and sitting chair among other unique artifacts. An apartment added on to the original house in the 1960s allows the Center to house visiting artists, among them the Marguerite and Lamar Smith Writing Fellow that visits each fall.
Carson McCullers was born in Columbus in 1917, and as a young child, she studied to be a concert pianist. From a young age, McCullers also wrote and performed plays in her childhood home for family and neighborhood audiences. By the time she was a teenager, McCullers realized that she did not have the stamina to pursue a life as a concert pianist, and she forged ahead in her writing career, leaving Columbus for New York City at the age of 17. While McCullers spent most of her remaining years in New York, she returned home frequently until the home was sold in 1944. Her written work was set in fictional towns in Georgia, closely resembling her hometown of Columbus, and McCullers worked steadily on the novels The Member of the Wedding and The Ballad of the Sad Café when she visited her home in the early 1940s. At just 23 years old, McCullers published her first novel, the critically-acclaimed The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (chosen as one of the NEA’s Big Read works of the 20th Century). She went on to publish a significant body of work including plays, non-fiction essays, short stories, poetry, children’s literature, and four other novels: Reflections in a Golden Eye, The Member of the Wedding, The Ballad of the Sad Café, and Clock Without Hands. All of McCullers’ novels were successful, leading to a long-running Broadway production of The Member of the Wedding and subsequent popular film adaptations of Reflections in a Golden Eye, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, The Member of the Wedding, and The Ballad of the Sad Café. Due to the southern settings and remarkable characters featured in her work, McCullers is read, discussed, and studied alongside William Faulkner, Erskine Caldwell, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Flannery O’Conner, and Eudora Welty. In short, Carson McCullers is one of the most successful and well-known authors to emerge from Georgia, the South, and the United States.
Q. Who do you serve?
A. Anyone who loves literature and music. But maybe more specifically: those who love American literature, southern literature, women’s literature, and, of course, those who love the literature of Carson McCullers. We are located in the Columbus, Georgia area, but our audience encompasses the globe.
Q. What is your organization’s biggest accomplishment?
A. Thus far, there are too many to name! But 2011 Interdisciplinary Carson McCullers Conference was a wonderful success. This international conference brought in speakers, performers, and participants from around the world. The conference included scholarly papers ranging from topics on the history of Carson’s Columbus, her medical condition, innovative literary interpretations of her works, and her time in Ireland. The conference also featured a screening of a new film adaptation of one of her short stories and hosted musical performances related to her works.
We are also very proud of our upcoming participation in hosting the Southern Literary Festival. The Festival brings five internationally-acclaimed writers to Columbus for public readings: U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey, National Book Award-winning Tim O’Brien, New York Times Bestselling-author Kevin Wilson, poet Dan Albergotti, and non-fiction writer Madge McKeithen.
We’re also proud that sponsorship from organizations like the Georgia Humanities Council, the Columbus Cultural Arts Alliance, and the Historic Chattahoochee Commission helps to keep our programming free to the public.
Q. What is the Carson McCullers Center’s biggest need?
A. We operate mostly on the generosity of our donors and sponsoring institution. As with many non-profit organizations, our greatest need is future financial support for the continuation and expansion of our literary and musical programming.
Q. What are the organization’s plan for the future?
A. We have many, many events coming up this spring (http://www.mccullerscenter.org/events.php), and in the future we hope to continue offering our reading series, along with a music series, and a Creative Writing conference for Georgia high school-aged students.