Carson McCullers: A Life (Hardcover)

Carson McCullers: A Life By Mary V. Dearborn Cover Image
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The first major biography in more than twenty years of one of America’s greatest writers, based on newly available letters and journals

V. S. Pritchett called her “a genius.” Gore Vidal described her as a “beloved novelist of singular brilliance . . . Of all the Southern writers, she is the most apt to endure . . .” And Tennessee Williams said, “The only real writer the South ever turned out, was Carson.”

She was born Lula Carson Smith in Columbus, Georgia. Her dream was to become a concert pianist, though she’d been writing since she was sixteen and the influence of music was evident throughout her work. As a child, she said she’d been “born a man.” At twenty, she married Reeves McCullers, a fellow southerner, ex-soldier, and aspiring writer (“He was the best-looking man I had ever seen”). They had a fraught, tumultuous marriage lasting twelve years and ending with his suicide in 1953. Reeves was devoted to her and to her writing, and he envied her talent; she yearned for attention, mostly from women who admired her but rebuffed her sexually. Her first novel—The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter—was published in 1940, when she was twenty-three, and overnight, Carson McCullers became the most widely talked about writer of the time.

While McCullers’s literary stature continues to endure, her private life has remained enigmatic and largely unexamined. Now, with unprecedented access to the cache of materials that has surfaced in the past decade, Mary Dearborn gives us the first full picture of this brilliant, complex artist who was decades ahead of her time, a writer who understood—and captured—the heart and longing of the outcast.

About the Author

MARY V. DEARBORN holds a doctorate in English and comparative literature from Columbia University, where she was a Mellon Fellow in the Humanities. She is the author of seven books—among them, Mistress of Modernism: The Life of Peggy Guggenheim and Ernest Hemingway. Dearborn has been a fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. She lives in Buckland, Massachusetts.

Praise For…

“The time is ripe, then, for a more clear-eyed appraisal [of McCullers’s life and legacy]. With Carson McCullers: A Life, Mary V. Dearborn delivers . . . Dearborn approaches her subject with admiration and also with a healthy skepticism. She’s armed with archival material unavailable to many of her predecessors.” —Maggie Doherty, The New Yorker

"A colorful and finely detailed portrait of McCullers’ public and private lives . . . Dearborn weaves careful, critical readings of McCullers’ writings with detailed descriptions of the author’s life, producing an exemplary critical biography of one of our greatest writers.”
BookPage, starred

“A necessary book . . . [Carson McCullers: A Life] builds on [previous biographies] and considers newly released material, including letters and journals and, most tantalizingly, transcripts of McCullers’s late-life psychiatric sessions with the female doctor who would become her lover and gatekeeper . . . [The book] functions as a rich history of queer culture during the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s . . . It’s to Dearborn’s credit that she suggests McCullers’s deep humanity, her subversive talents as a writer and lonely observer, and a strong sense of what McCullers herself called ‘her sad, happy life.’” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times Book Review

“The broad strokes of Carson McCullers are: born in the South, a smash debut novel at age 23—The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, published in 1940—and a wild marriage that ended in the suicide of her jealous husband. Dearborn goes deeper here into McCullers’ life using letters and journals to build out the biography of one of the South’s great writers and offer a more complex portrait of someone who felt she was “born a man” and felt a deal of friction between her understanding of the world and that of the people in it.” Literary Hub, "Most Anticipated Books of 2024"
“A landmark biography . . . [A] scrupulously researched and crafted saga of creativity, chaos, self-destruction, misery, and love . . . Dearborn deepens our appreciation for McCullers herself and her daring, resonant works.” Booklist, starred
 “Biographer Dearborn (Ernest Hemingway) delivers a penetrating portrait . . . Dearborn provides astute psychological insight into McCullers, describing her as a headstrong if ‘needy’   writer who demanded ‘constant expressions of love,’ and offers a tender depiction of her close friendship with Tennessee Williams. This skillful biography satisfies.”Publishers Weekly
Product Details
ISBN: 9780525521013
ISBN-10: 0525521011
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: February 27th, 2024
Pages: 496
Language: English