February 19, 2010
To really get CARSON MCCULLERS (1917-67), maybe you need to have stood in the dark, fragrant shade of a scuppernong arbor. Summers in the south take on a sickening green sweetness, a crazy bright light that hurts. It’s not Eudora Welty’s curtain of green, or the harsh lightning that illuminates Flannery O’Connor’s Christ-haunted South. It burns from desire that turns treacherous when it is indistinguishable from obsession or even hatred. A tall, odd-looking girl in terrible health, McCullers yearned for connection and found it in exalted company. After leaving Columbus, Georgia, at age 17, for decades she divided her time between the artists colony at Yaddo (nine times, surely a record) and a Brooklyn Heights collective with W.H. Auden, Gypsy Rose Lee, and Benjamin Britten, among others, and produced such enduring works as Reflections in a Golden Eye and The Ballad of the Sad Cafe. McCullers’ short life was marked by repeated damage: paralyzing strokes, divorce and remarriage to the same unhappy man, alcoholism. At times she was physically unable to move a pen. Writing and infatuation sustained her. In a photo taken after the Broadway premiere of The Member of the Wedding she cuddles between Julie Harris and Ethel Waters, the play’s two stars, her head resting securely on Waters’ bosom.
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