The novelist Carson McCullers died 50 years ago today, on September 29, 1967, from a brain hemorrhage. She was only 50 years old but had suffered from serious health issues most of her life, including rheumatic fever, a series of strokes that left her paralyzed on her left side, alcoholism and severe depression.
McCullers attempted suicide in 1948, after her first paralysis. In 1953 her husband, Reeves McCullers, convinced her to enter into a suicide pact with him, but she ran away instead and he took his own life in their hotel room in Paris.
She and Reeves were both bisexual. He had affairs with men during their marriage, and she pursued unsuccessful relationships with women including, oddly enough, the stripper Gypsy Rose Lee.
McCullers was not a prolific writer but her work has lasting impact. Her Southern Gothic novels, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, The Member of the Wedding and The Ballad of the Sad Café, are masterpieces of human yearning and unfulfilled hopes.
I haven’t re-read her books since my first infatuation with her years ago but I still remember her sharp evocative prose. Her books are not plot driven, but more explorations of people fighting to decide who they are genuinely meant to be despite strong societal pressure to conform.