February 19, 1917 - September 29, 1967: Age 50
"The mind is like a richly woven tapestry in which the colors are distilled from the experiences of the senses, and the design drawn from the convolutions of the intellect."
— Carson McCullers
Born Lula Carson Smith, the girl who would become Carson McCullers dreamed of becoming a concert pianist. An early childhood bout of rheumatic fever deprived her of the stamina needed for practising, but she nonetheless went to New York as a teenager, ostensibly to study at the Julliard School. By then, however, her real ambition was to write, and she never attended any classes.
The early illness was the first of many health problems that always prevented McCullers from anything like a carefree existence. She appeared, and was, fragile and frail physically, but had a tough spirit that carried her through 50 years of strokes, paralysis, pneumonia, alcoholism, and depression. She never closed her heart to life: she wrote about the inner lives of social misfits and outcasts with passionate honesty.
At the age of 20 she married the writer James Reeves McCullers. The marriage ended quickly; both parties were bisexual and pursued extramarital relationships and in 1940 there was a triangle in which she and Reeves fell in love with the same man. Perhaps the greatest stress on the marriage was the fact that Reeves never achieved any recognition as a writer. They remained emotionally attached, remarrying in 1945. In the early 1950s, living in Paris, Reeves tried to convince her to commit suicide with him. She declined, and he ended his life in November 1953.
A series of strokes left McCullers paralyzed on the left side by the age of 31. She continued to write and enjoy critical success, although her popularity even among intellectuals was never unmixed: her subjects, the misfits and outcasts, always made people feel uncomfortable. In 1967, bedridden for years, she suffered a final stroke and brain hemmhorrage, which left her comatose for more than six weeks. She finally died on September 29.
"The theme is the theme of humiliation, which is the square root of sin, as opposed to the freedom from humiliation, and love, which is the square root of wonderful."
— Carson McCullers, describing her 1957 play
Sources: Wikipedia, The Carson McCullers Project