Plans Forming for Celebration of Carson McCullers’ 100th Birthday

COLUMBUS, Ga. --- Columbus State University and a myriad of partners are developing a community-wide celebration to commemorate the 100th birthday of noted author Carson McCullers, who was born and started her writing career in Columbus.

Dubbed Carson at 100: The McCullers Centennial, the celebration will include months of activities early next year, culminating with an event on February 19, 2017 that will include actress Karen Allen, who has appeared in films such as “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “The Sandlot,” “Scrooged” and “Animal House.” Allen is a devoted McCullers fan and will use her Columbus visit as the occasion to unveil the first movie she has ever directed, a short film based on the McCullers story "A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud."

“We are tremendously excited to have Karen Allen partner with us on this celebration,” said Nick Norwood, an English professor who directs CSU’s Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians. “I just returned from visiting the movie set and can confirm that it is going to be a stunningly beautiful film.”

TRC Shoot

Plans are still coming together, but Norwood said McCullers’ classic novel “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” has already been selected as CSU's Common Read (for all incoming first-year students) and the Chattahoochee Valley Library's Big Read.

Events planned so far include:

-- Art Installation: The Back Alley Project, January 15 - February 19, 2017 at the Smith-McCullers House, 1519 Stark Avenue, Columbus
-- Columbus Museum Exhibition: January 28 - April 9, 2017 (opening reception: February 2, 2017)
-- Columbus Museum Lunchtime Lecture on Carson McCullers by McCullers Center Director Nick Norwood: February 7, 2017
-- CSU Schwob Memorial Library Archives Exhibition: October 2016 - February 2017
-- Ilges Gallery (CSU Corn Center for the Visual Arts) Exhibition: January 17 - February 25, 2017 (opening reception: February 7, 2017, 5:30 – 7 p.m.)
-- Showcase Event: February 19, 2017, 4 p.m., Bill Heard Theatre, RiverCenter for the Performing Arts

Norwood said he hopes to use these events to showcase McCullers’s impact as an American author and the treasure trove of history in Columbus that honors her and her work.

The McCullers Center is an educational outreach unit of CSU in the home McCullers grew up in on Stark Avenue. The house is currently used as a Carson McCullers museum, a literary-event space and a residency site for visiting writers, artists and scholars, and it is part of the Southern Literary Trail, a series of homes and landmarks celebrating writers of classic Southern literature in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.

According to Georgia Encyclopedia, Carson McCullers is considered to be among the most significant American writers of the 20th century. She amassed a collection of work including five novels, two plays, 20 short stories, more than two dozen nonfiction pieces, a book of children's verses, a small number of poems and an unfinished autobiography. She is best known for her novels “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter,” “The Ballad of the Sad Cafe,” “Reflections in a Golden Eye,” and “The Member of the Wedding,” all published between 1940 and 1946. At least four of her works have been made into films.

She was born Lula Carson Smith on February 19, 1917, in Columbus, the daughter of Lamar Smith, a jewelry store owner, and Vera Marguerite Waters. Lula Carson, as she was called until age 14, graduated from Columbus High School at 16. An unremarkable student, she preferred the more solitary study of the piano. Encouraged by her mother, who was convinced that her daughter was destined for greatness, McCullers began formal piano study at age 10. She was forced to give up her dream of a career as a concert pianist after rheumatic fever left her without the stamina for the rigors of practice or a concert career. While recuperating, McCullers began to read voraciously and to consider writing as a vocation.

In 1934, at age 17, McCullers sailed from Savannah to New York City, ostensibly to study piano at the Juilliard School of Music but actually to pursue her secret ambition to write. Working various jobs to support herself, she studied creative writing at New York's Columbia University and at Washington Square College of New York University. She continued her writing career in a house in Nyack N.Y., which was recently gifted to CSU as part of the Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians.