From the Outside In: A Visitor's Guide to the Windows
Typescript of The Member of the Wedding, Carson McCullers, ca. 1946
Carson McCullers sets the scene for her stage adaptation of The Member of the Wedding in this text selection from her papers, held by the Harry Ransom Center. Here begins the story of a lonely twelve-year-old girl, Frankie Addams, who wants to find a place to belong—her "we of me"—by joining with her older brother and his bride. As you stand looking at this window, a portrait of McCullers herself can be seen not far away, in the glass surrounding the Ransom Center's northwest atrium.
Carson McCullers (1917–1967) is considered one of the significant American writers of the twentieth century. She is often compared to her contemporaries, the Southern female authors Eudora Welty, Flannery O'Connor, and Katherine Ann Porter. McCullers, however, transcends the "Southern gothic" genre in her novels, plays, and short stories with their universal themes of loneliness and isolation. Her work is notable for its keenly observed cast of misfit characters.
McCullers gained early recognition for her writing before a series of strokes limited her literary output. Her body of work consists of five novels, two plays, 20 short stories, more than two dozen nonfiction pieces, a book of children's verse, 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 Café, 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.
Soon after the 1946 publication of McCullers's fourth novel, The Member of the Wedding, she began work on a dramatic adaptation. The project was interrupted by the first of a series of strokes that left the writer paralyzed on her left side, but in 1948 she completed the adaptation while staying with her friend Tennessee Williams in Nantucket. McCullers's theatrical adaptation of the novel opened on Broadway in 1950 to near unanimous acclaim, and it enjoyed a run of 501 performances. The adaptation proved to be her most successful work, commercially and critically. It won the 1950 New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best American Play of the Season, and the Donaldson Awards for Best Play and Best First Play by an Author.
During the final 15 years of her life, McCullers's health and creative abilities declined. Her second play, The Square Root of Wonderful, closed after only 45 performances on Broadway in 1957, and her final, 1961 novel, Clock Without Hands, drew mixed reviews. She died in 1967 after suffering a cerebral stroke.
In 1975 the Ransom Center acquired a comprehensive collection of McCullers's materials, including drafts, revisions, translations, and adaptations of her works, as well as correspondence, photographs, and even personal objects such as her cigarette lighter. —Katherine McGhee