CSU to Celebrate the Life and Works of Carson McCullers

COLUMBUS, Ga. -- Columbus State University will mark the birthday of legendary author Carson McCullers by hosting an international gathering of scholars, writers and performers, including singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega.

There will be something for everyone during the Feb. 17-19 Carson McCullers Interdisciplinary Conference and 94th Birthday Celebration presented by CSU’s McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians.

The first conference devoted to the study and scholarship of Carson McCullers since 1987 will feature scholarly presentations, panel discussions, films, tours and musical performances, highlighted by Vega on the second night. 

Born Lula Carson Smith on Feb. 19, 1917 in Columbus, McCullers relocated to New York City at age 17 and became one of the nation’s leading female fiction writers of the 20th century. Most famous 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 also wrote plays and short stories. She also suffered a series of health problems and died at age 50 in 1967. 

Events commemorating McCullers will primarily be held in Foley Hall at the Springer Opera House, while other components take place at CSU venues: RiverCenter’s Studio Theatre, Carpenters Hall and the Rankin Arts Center.

“We wanted it all downtown, or most of it downtown because McCullers so accurately described downtown Columbus in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and Member of the Wedding,” said English professor Cathy Fussell, who directs the McCullers Center from the author’s childhood home in midtown Columbus. “We thought the out-of-towners would really want to see the town that Carson knew and wrote about.”

The conference kicks off Thursday night with a 5-7 p.m. registration period and reception in the Rankin Arts Center, followed by a program at the neighboring Springer with opening remarks from CSU President Tim Mescon, Southern Literary Trail Director William Gannt, Springer Theatre Artistic Director Paul Pierce and Fussell. CSU history professor Virginia Causey will close the evening with a presentation on “Carson’s Columbus: An Historical Perspective.”

The following night, a performance by Suzanne Vega in Foley Hall will include a one-woman play, Carson McCullers Talks About Love.

The mission of the conference is to promote McCullers research, with presentations and panel discussions throughout Friday and on Saturday morning. “We sent out the call for papers last summer and we had more papers submitted than we could accept, so I think we did inspire some scholarship,” says Fussell. “I hope the conference goes on to inspire more scholarship.”

More than 28 presenters are scheduled, including Carlos Dews, the McCullers Center’s first director and editor of McCullers’ unfinished autobiography, Illumination and Night Glare. He now heads the English Department at John Cabot University in Italy and will present “A Love Letter to Carson: Confessions of a Literary Biographer.” Other international scholar-presenters include English professors Judith Caesar (American University of Sharjak in the United Arab Emirates) and Miho Matsui (Saporo City University in Japan). In addition to Causey, other CSU presenters are professors Courtney George and Carmen Skaggs and student Jennifer Ross.

Complementing the celebration on Saturday, Feb. 19, Midtown Inc., will present “McCullers’ Midtown,” a series of free events not requiring conference registration, beginning at 1:30 p.m. with a narrated bus tour from downtown Columbus to the Wynnton School (McCullers’ elementary school) auditorium where filmmaker Lauren Rosen will screen her adaptations of McCullers short stories Wunderkind and A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud. After a reception, the bus tour will continue to the McCullers house on Stark Avenue.

The conference concludes with a Saturday night birthday party for McCullers, with cake, food and a traditional jug band performance by The Jake Leg Stompers from Murfreesboro, Tenn. “The Jake Leg Stompers have designed a custom show just for us,” says Fussell. “We are billing the evening as “Supper at the Sad Café — On a Good Night.”

Additional conference sponsors include the Columbus Cultural Arts Alliance and the Southern Literary Trail, organizers of Trailfest 2011— a tri-state festival from February through May in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. CSU’s celebration will open Trailfest, which involves similar events in the hometowns of noted Southern writers such as McCullers, Flannery O’Connor, Joel Chandler Harris and Alice Walker (Georgia); Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, Harper Lee, and Truman Capote (Alabama); and William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Eudora Welty, (Mississippi).

The fee for the conference is $100 per person, which includes the panel discussions, films, music programs, one full meal and two receptions with hors d’oeuvres. For more information, call 706-565-4021 or visit http://www.mccullerscenter.org/.