Thursday, February 18, 2010

Happy Birthday, Carson McCullers!

Tomorrow is the birthday of one of my literary heroes - Carson McCullers (1917-1967). McCullers is best known for her Southern gothic novels, but she is also one hell of a short story writer (check out "The Sojourner," "Poldi," or "The Haunted Boy," and tell me your heart doesn't break in the final lines). I first read McCuller's most famous novel The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (which she published at the age of 23!!!) when I was in middle school, and I've been hooked on classic American literature ever since. Her work is dark, a little disturbing, drenched in atmosphere, and very beautiful.

But my real love of Carson McCullers lies in her perseverance. She suffered from neurological problems her entire life, and by the time she hit middle age, she was almost completely paralyzed on her left side. But writing was more important to her than anything in the world, and she forced herself to write at least one page a day even when she was in unbelievable pain. I can only hope to continue loving writing like that for the rest of my life. When people ask why I'm a writer, I often toss out my favorite Carson McCullers quote: "I wouldn't want to live if I couldn't write."

So, happy birthday, Carson McCullers! You've been an enormous inspiration in my life. In celebration, here is the opening section of her wonderful novel The Member of the Wedding.

From: The Member of the Wedding, by Carson McCullers

It happened that green and crazy summer when Frankie was twelve years old. This was the summer when for a long time she had not been a member. She belonged to no club and was a member of nothing in the world. Frankie had become an unjoined person who hung around in doorways, and she was afraid. In June the trees were bright dizzy green, but later the leaves darkened, and the town turned black and shrunken under the glare of the sun. At first Frankie walked around doing one thing and another. The sidewalks of the town were gray in the early morning and at night, but the noon sun put a glaze on them, so that the cement burned and glittered like glass. The sidewalks finally became too hot for Frankie's feet, and also she got herself in trouble. She was in so much secret trouble that she thought it was better to stay at home - and at home there was only Berenice Sadie Brown and John Henry West. The three of them sat at the kitchen table, saying the same things over and over, so that by August the words began to rhyme with each other and sound strange. The world seemed to die each afternoon and nothing moved any longer. At last the summer was like a green sick dream, or like a silent crazy jungle under glass.

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