Novelist Carson McCullers (1917-67), noted for her exploration of the dilemmas of modern American life in the context of the twentieth-century South, was born on February 19, 1917, in Columbus, Georgia.
Her first novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, published in 1940, delves into the lives of four isolated individuals—an adolescent girl, an embittered radical, a black physician, and a widower who owns a cafe—struggling to find their way in a small Southern town during the Great Depression. McCullers explored similar themes in later works such as The Ballad of the Sad Café and The Member of the Wedding. Her work is generally considered to be part of the Southern gothic school of writing, which includes writers such as William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, and Truman Capote.
McCullers’ writing was shaped by her childhood in Columbus, Georgia. Located at the falls of the Chattahoochee River in the western part of the state, in its early years, Columbus boasted a thriving textile industry, powered by the river. Because of its position on the river, Columbus also served as an important port city and a regional center of commerce before railroads supplanted rivers as major transportation routes. During the Civil War, it was an important supply center for the Confederacy. Columbus remains one of the largest textile centers in the South.
As the Chattahoochee crosses the fall line at Columbus, Georgia, it falls 125 feet within 2 1/2 miles producing a potential energy of between 66,000 and 99,000 horsepower. That water power made Columbus one of the leading industrial centers within the South, attracting investors and entrepreneurs. As early as 1828 the river powered a grist mill and by the 1840s it supplied power for several textile mills. By 1880 Muscogee h. p. per sq. mile was greater than any other county south of New York. Conversion of that power to electricity began with arc lighting in 1880…
Water Power Development at the Falls of the Chattahoochee, (Page one of the drawings pages). Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey. Prints & Photographs Division
- Browse the list of authors included in the Van Vechten Collection to see portraits of McCullers’ contemporaries.
- Search the collection Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives for the geographic location Columbus, Georgia to view pictures of McCullers’ hometown during the period she was writing about.
- Browse the title list of WPA Life Histories from Georgia to find firsthand accounts of life in Georgia in the early part of the twentieth century. These are part of the collection American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940.
- Search Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey on the terms Georgia or Chattahoochee for images and information. Or try browsing the collection on the subject heading GEORGIA–Muscogee County–Columbus.