Carson McCullers, Carl Van Vechten, photographer, July 31, 1959.
Creative Americans: Portraits by Van Vechten, 1932-1964
Novelist Carson McCullers, 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 most famous novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, published in 1940, delves into the "lonely hearts" of four individuals—an adolescent girl, an embittered radical, a black physician, and a widower who owns a café—struggling to find their way in a Southern mill town during the Great Depression.
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, Columbus boasted a thriving textile industry, powered by the river, as early as 1840. During the Civil War, it was an important supply center for the Confederacy and the site of the last major battle east of the Mississippi. 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 1 (of data pages).
Built in America: Historic Building and Engineering, 1933-Present
Columbus, Georgia, H. Wellge, mapmaker, Beck & Pauli Lith. Co., 1886.
Browse the title list of WPA Life Histories from Georgia to find first-hand accounts of the time and place that inspired much of McCullers' work. Topics covered include occupational histories, religion, politics, and the impact of the Great Depression.
See the Today in History feature on the first American cotton mill to learn more about the history of the textile industry in the U.S., or search the Today in History Archive on Georgia to learn more about the history of the Peach State.
To locate more portraits of prominent twentieth-century writers, browse the list of authors included in Creative Americans: Portraits by Van Vechten, 1932-1964.
Search Built in America: Historic Building and Engineering, 1933-Present on the terms Georgia or Chattahoochee for images and information from the Historic American Buildings Survey and the Historic American Engineering Record (HABS/HAER).
McCullers aficionados may be interested in the Carson McCullers Society which was organized by a group of scholars at the 1997 Convention of the American Literature Association.