Guide to the Carson McCullers Papers, 1941-1995


Carson McCullers (1917-1967) was an author, born in Muscogee County, Ga., as Lula Carson Smith. Her husband was Reeves McCullers. Her works included The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940) and The Member of the Wedding (1946). Collection consists of correspondence between McCullers and Tennessee Williams, Dame Edith Sitwell, and cousins, Jordan Massee, Jr., and Paul Bigelow; writings by McCullers; poems by Dame Edith Sitwell; and clippings; together with correspondence from McCullers' mother, Marguerite (Waters) Smith, to Massee and Bigelow, and other papers. Topics include the relationship between McCullers and Williams and their lifestyles, health, moods, travels, residences, and attitudes toward well-known contemporary writers, and McCullers' relationship with her husband, Reeves.

Collection Details

Collection Number
Carson McCullers papers
1941-1995 and undated (bulk 1945-1970)
McCullers, Carson, 1917-1967
1.2 Linear Feet, 300 Items
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Material in English

Collection Overview

The Carson McCullers Papers span the years 1941-1995 and are divided into six series: Correspondence, Writings, Jordan Massee Notebooks, Photographs, Printed Materials, and Clippings. The Correspondence Series includes numerous letters from Carson McCullers to Jordan Massee, Paul Bigelow, Edith Sitwell, and other friends and family members. Most significant in the series is the correspondence between McCullers and Tennessee Williams, in which both writers touch on a variety of topics such as the writing process, health, marital problems, and their travels. Carson's relationship with her husband, Reeves McCullers, is a frequent topic.

The Writings Series, the largest in the collection, comprises typewritten manuscripts of several long as well as short published works of McCullers, including The Member of the Wedding (which has handwritten revisions) and The Clock Without Hands. Notable short writings include verses that McCullers wrote for children, an essay on literary criticism, and two short works that are inscribed and signed by the author. At the end of the series there are also two poems by Edith Sitwell.

The Jordan Massee Notebooks Series contains a catalogue that Massee compiled about the McCullers papers he owned, as well as a notebook with notes about McCullers and extracts from his journals.

The Photographs Series consists of five photographs, most of which are of Carson McCullers. Particularly noteworthy is a photograph taken by Henri Cartier-Bresson, where McCullers appears with the editor of Harper's Bazaar, George Davis.

The Printed Materials Series and the Clippings Series both contain reviews of writings by McCullers and materials related to their dramatization. The latter series includes two short essays by Tennessee Williams as well as numerous obituaries published after McCullers's death.

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[Identification of item], Carson McCullers Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University

Contents of the Collection

1. Correspondence Series, 1944-1978 and undated

Contains letters to and from family members and friends of Carson McCullers, most notably Tennessee Williams. Other prominent correspondents in the series include McCullers's cousins, Jordan Massee, Jr. and Paul Bigelow; Edith Sitwell, and Kathleen Batteen. There are also several letters from Carson's mother, Marguerite Smith, as well as Edward Albee, Bessie Brewer, Marielle Bancou, Julie Harris, Mary Mercer, Glenway Wescott, Robert Whitehead, and Donald Windham.

1944-1948 and undated
Box 1
Box 1
1950 Jan. 2-1978 May 9 and undated
Box 1

2. Writings Series, 1941-1967 and undated

The largest component of the series is the typewritten manuscript of The Member of the Wedding, with the author's hand-written corrections. There are numerous variants for certain portions of the novel and material not used in the published version. The series also contains a copy of the manuscript of The Clock without Hands, which was sent at the request of McCullers to Jordan Massee by Robert Lantz of Robin Productions. Other material includes Jordan Massee's notes about The Member of the Wedding, as well as published and unpublished short pieces written by McCullers. Among these are an essay by McCullers entitled Russian Realists and Southern Writers; her contemplation on the writing process; a collection of verses for children originally bound in a notebook, Sweet as a Pickle and Clean as a Pig; handwritten lyrics for a song from The Ballad of the Sad Cafe; and finally, typescripts of The Dual Angel and A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud, inscribed and signed by the author. At the end of the series, there are also two poems by Edith Sitwell, accompanied by Jordan Massee's notes.

Folders are arranged by title or format; materials within each folder are in chronological order.

Clock Without Hands
Box 1
Manuscript, 1961 (2 folders)
Box 1
Member of the Wedding
Information folder, 1983 and undated
Box 1
Sections 1-55, undated (folders 1-6 of 9)
Box 1
Member of the Wedding
Box 2
Sections 1-55, undated (folders 7-9 of 9)
Box 2
Short published pieces
Box 2
The Dual Angel (in Botteghe Obscure, 1952)
Box 2
Drafts and manuscripts
The Dual Angel,A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud,The Mortgaged Heart,Decision, and a lyric for song from The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, 1951-1954 and undated
Box 2
Edith Sitwell's poems, 1950 Nov.
Box 2

3. Jordan Massee Notebooks Series, 1974-1977

Contains two notebooks compiled in 1974 by Jordan Massee, a cousin and close friend of Carson McCullers, as well as a brief recapitulation that was added three years later. The first notebook is a catalog of the Carson McCullers collection Massee owned; the second notebook consists of excerpts from Massee's journals, 1949-1965, and his household account book for 1956. This volume also contains an introduction by Massee written in 1974, a list of Carson's visits to his apartment in New York in 1957, notes concerning the funeral arrangements for Carson, and his recollections of a conversation with Truman Capote about Carson in July 1965.

1974, Catalogue
Box 2
1974, XII: Notes
Box 2
1977, Second recapitulation
Box 2

4. Photographs Series, 1946-1959

Contains three large portraits of Carson McCullers, a picture of the author's sister, Margarita Smith (with the headmistress of Ashley Hall in Charleston, Estelle McBee), and a photograph of McCullers with the editor of Harper's Bazaar, George Davis (taken by Henri Cartier-Bresson).

Photographs, 1946-1959
Box 2

5. Printed Materials Series, 1949-1968

Contains several documents related to life and writings of Carson McCullers, including a review of her work in German, a short article about Clock Without Hands from The New Republic, as well as a small booklet that advertises the publication of the novel.

Criticism, reviews, advertisements, 1949-1968
Box 2

6. Clippings Series, 1946-1955 and undated

Clippings from newspapers, journals, and playbills in this series provide insights into the representation of Carson McCullers by the media. There are short clippings about the author's life, documents regarding the reception and dramatization of her works, as well as brief essays of literary criticism, including two articles written by Tennessee Williams.

Clippings, 1946-1957
Box 2
Clippings, 1961-1963
Box 2
Clippings, 1965-1995 and undated
Box 2
Obituaries, funeral invoice, and sympathy card, 1967 and undated
Box 2

Historical Note

Carson McCullers, born Lula Carson Smith, was an American author of novels, short stories, plays, and poetry. She was born in Columbus, Georgia, in 1917, and studied piano as a child. When she was 15, she had rheumatic fever, an illness that caused her to have strokes throughout her life (beginning in her 20s), and that contributed to her choosing writing over a career in music. She left Georgia for New York City in 1934, where she began taking creative writing classes at Columbia University and New York University. Her first short story, Wunderkind, was published in 1936.

In 1940 Carson McCullers published The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, a novel written in the Southern Gothic tradition. Subsequent works included Reflections in a Golden Eye (1941), The Member of the Wedding (1946), The Ballad of the Sad Cafe (1951), The Square Root of Wonderful (1957), and Clock without Hands (1961). Several of her works were adapted for the stage and/or film.

In 1937 Carson married Reeves McCullers. Carson and Reeves' marriage was tumultuous. They both struggled with alcoholism and depression, and their relationship was perhaps complicated by Reeves' own literary ambitions and by their romantic attachments to other people (both Reeves and Carson were bisexual).

In 1941 Carson divorced Reeves, moving to New York and eventually to Paris after World War II, where she was friends with Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote. She remarried Reeves McCullers in 1945. In Paris in 1953 Reeves tried to convince her to agree to a suicide pact; she fled, and he killed himself by taking sleeping pills.

After suffering several strokes, Carson lived with her mother and sister in Nyack, New York. She died of a brain hemorrhage at age 50 in 1967.

Related Material

Related materials include the Virginia Spencer Carr Papers, the Mary E. Mercer Collection of Carson McCullers-Mary Tucker Correspondence, the Edwin Peacock Papers, and the Mary Sames Tucker Papers, all housed at the Duke University. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Click to find related materials at Duke University Libraries.


The Carson McCullers Papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library through purchases in 1971, 1979, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1985, and 1995. Donors include Jordan Massee, Kathleen Balten, John Ziegler, and David Battan.

Processing Information

Processed by Pavla Vesela and other staff, May 2004

Encoded by Pavla Vesela, Brittany E. Wilson, Paula Jeannet, Michael Shumate, February 2006

Accessions 10-21-1971, 1-24-1979, 7-23-1980, 9-9-1982, 3-23-1983, 10-21-1983, 7-30-1985, 1995-0074 were merged into one collection, described in this finding aid.

The Carson McCullers Papers were formerly part of a larger collection titled Collections on Carson McCullers.