Author, Author! Gift Makes CSU a Research Destination for McCullers Scholars
Editor's Note: This first appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of Focus, Columbus State University's twice-a-year magazine.
[caption id="attachment_2942" align="alignleft" width="180"] The marble table where Carson McCullers entertained Marilyn Monroe, her playwright hustand Arthur Mioller and author Isak Dinesen at McCullers' Nyack, N.Y. home, below, on Feb. 5, 1959 is now part of CSU's Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians in Columbus, as displayed by director Courtney George.[/caption]
he walls may not talk, but Columbus State University expects to help scholars learn more about Columbus’ most famous author, Carson McCullers, as a result of acquiring the author’s former home in Nyack, N.Y.
That’s because the recent gift of the house from the estate of Dr. Mary E. Mercer, McCullers’ physician and longtime friend, also includes more than 10,000 pages of the author’s personal documents, artifacts, artwork and even furniture used by McCullers.
With the addition of the recently secured documents, Columbus State’s McCullers collection is now believed to be the nation’s largest, surpassing in size that of Duke University and the University of Texas.
“This will move CSU into the next level of research libraries, and researchers will definitely benefit from it,” said Tom Converse, the CSU Archives assistant who’s now organizing the McCullers materials.
McCullers fans at CSU’s Department of English and its McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians are excited about the promise of the Nyack home for CSU students who participate in the department’s annual New York Comparative Arts Program. The three-story, 6,000-square foot Nyack home is just 20 miles north of New York City, offering preferable housing than the New York University dorms where program participants previously lived for three weeks at a time.
“This presents a thrilling opportunity for our students to study in a great American city in a famous American author’s home,” says Courtney George, assistant professor of English and director of the McCullers center. “We intend to use the house for lodging for ‘study-away’ programs in the New York City area, much like CSU’s house in Oxford, England.”
The recent McCullers gift to CSU, finalized in late 2013, is a byproduct of the enduring friendship between McCullers and her physician friend. Mercer purchased the house in 1968 after the author’s death at age 50 in 1967. Mercer was 90 when she told the New York Times in a 2000 interview she didn’t want to walk by and “discover the hedges cut down and the house painted purple.”
[caption id="attachment_2946" align="alignright" width="300"] Author Carson McCullers, left, poses with her physician and friend, Dr. Mary E. Mercer, July 31, 1959.[/caption]
Mercer treated the home as a shrine to McCullers, telling the Times she would only rent the home’s five apartments to artists who were able to answer her questions about the author and which of her books they had read.
Mercer died April 23, 2013 at age 101.
Besides the home overlooking the Hudson River, CSU’s gift from the Mercer estate includes an endowment for operating expenses and program development.
Among artifacts that are part of the gift:
- McCullers’ art collection
- Her book and record album collection
- Various papers, letters, and photographs
- And furniture, including the sofa where McCullers wrote her last novel, Clock Without Hands, and the marble table where she lunched with such visitors as Marilyn Monroe, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Julie Harris, Helen Hayes, Edward Albee, Isak Dinesen, Henry Varnum Poor, Horton Foote, Bessie Breuer, George Davis and Lotte Lenya.
[caption id="attachment_2948" align="alignleft" width="210"] McCullers' former Nyack, N.Y., home, which CSU now owns.[/caption]
The furniture and some of the artwork now reside in CSU’s McCullers center on Stark Avenue. The Nyack home was McCullers’ primary residence from 1944 until her death 23 years later. Originally a single-family home, the author had it subdivided into apartments on the advice, and with the help of, friend and playwright Tennessee Williams. The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.
Columbus State’s Schwob Memorial Library is managing the new McCullers papers, books and related artifacts, making them available for research purposes at the library’s third-floor CSU Archives. The items include the book she was holding when she had a stroke from which she never recovered in 1967, digitized recordings of McCullers and Tennessee Williams from a lecture given together in 1954 at NYC’s 97th Street YMCA, and paintings from Henry Varnum Poor, who was a friend.
[caption id="attachment_2949" align="alignright" width="193"] CSU Archives Assistant Tom Converse looks throrugh CSU's new McCullers books and albums.[/caption]
“The collections’ strengths are going to be the art world and the literary world in the mid-20th century,” Converse said. “She (McCullers) knew everybody. She knew all the playwrights. And (Mercer) was meticulous and kept very detailed notes. Things like the letters, the clippings, the telephone messages. Correspondences with lawyers and attorneys about royalties. She kept everything.”
McCullers, was born Lula Carson Smith on Feb. 19, 1917 in Columbus. Best-known for her novels — The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Reflections in a Golden Eye, The Member of the Wedding, The Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Clock Without Hands — McCullers was also a playwright and a short story writer. Her body of work also includes two plays, 20 short stories, over two dozen nonfiction pieces, a book of children’s verse, a few poems and an unfinished autobiography. CSU’s Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians, located in the author’s childhood home at 1519 Stark Ave., is dedicated to preserving her legacy.
For more information about the McCullers center, contact George at 706-565-4021 or mccullerscenter@ ColumbusState.edu.