“Carson’s heart was often lonely and it was a tireless hunter for those to whom she could offer it, but it was a heart that was graced with light that eclipsed its shadows.”-Tennessee Williams“Until now, no one had won the approval of McCullers’s literary executors to allow publication of Illumination and Night Glare. Carlos Dews, a daunting and meticulous scholar, has done just that, and the results are astounding; moreover, he was allowed to publish the ‘war letters’ of McCullers and Reeves, her ill-fated husband, a feat that throws important new light on their ambivalent relationship during the years between their anguished divorce and remarriage. Surely, this important book will lead readers and scholars alike back to McCullers’s remarkable fiction.”-Virginia Spencer Carr, author of The Lonely Hunter: A Biography of Carson McCullers
More than thirty years after it was written, the autobiography of Carson McCullers, Illumination and Night Glare, will be published for the first time. McCullers, one of the most gifted writers of her generation-the author of The Member of the Wedding, Reflections in a Golden Eye, and The Ballad of the Sad Cafe-died of a stroke at the age of fifty before finishing this, her last manuscript. Editor Carlos L. Dews has faithfully brought her story back to life, complete with never-before-published letters between McCullers and her husband Reeves, and an outline of her most famous novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.
Looking back over her life from a precocious childhood in Georgia to her painful decline from a series of crippling strokes, McCullers offers poignant and unabashed remembrances of her early writing success, her family attachments, a troubled marriage to a failed writer, friendships with literary and film luminaries (Gypsy Rose Lee, Richard Wright, Isak Dinesen, John Huston, Marilyn Monroe), and her intense relationships with the important women in her life.
When she was interviewed by Rex Reed in the Plaza Hotel on her final birthday, McCullers revealed her reason for writing an autobiography: “I think it is important for future generations of students to know why I did certain things, but it is also important for myself. I became an established literary figure overnight, and I was much too young to understand what happened to me or the responsibility it entailed. I was a bit of a holy terror. That, combined with all my illnesses, nearly destroyed me. Perhaps if I trace and preserve for other generations the effect this success had on me it will affect future artists to accept it better.”
From Booklist , August 19, 1999
McCullers’ autobiography is somewhat like her life–fragmentary, painful, flitting, sad, and short. Written almost 30 years ago–she died at age 50–the volume was finally allowed to see the light of day by her protective estate. The book consists of three segments. First is a novella-sized fragment, which is more vignettes than narrative, but is marred by repetition and a time line that keeps hopping about. The second segment contains the World War II correspondence between Carson and Reeves, her star-crossed and two-time husband (who himself fell victim to suicide), which above all demonstrates Carson’s love but also her insecurities and obsessiveness that must have been factors in her own drinking problems. Finally, the third segment includes an original outline of “The Mute” –which metamorphosed into McCullers’ brilliant novel The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. Enough to whet the appetite of literary groupies, but the book leaves one pining for a full-scale biography. Still, an important piece of the puzzle for literary historians. Allen Weakland Copyright© 1999, American Library Association. All rights reserved
From Kirkus Reviews
Unfinished draft of a retrospection, including the inspirations for The Member of the Wedding and The Ballad of the Sad Caf, and the “nightmare glare” of her paralyzing strokes. In her last year, 1967, McCullers described her projected autobiography as a means by which both future students and she herself could understand her life: her overnight literary success with The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and her “holy terror” career, her crippling illnesses, her unstable husband, Reeves, and, supplying the work’s title, her moments of inspiration and periods of depression. After two posthumous biographies, there are no great surprises or revelations here, only the advantage of McCullers’s testimony in her own voice. Engaging in what editor Dews calls “de-mythologizing and re-mythologizing,” McCullers vividly recounts her family life and childhood in Georgia and her intense friendships with her childhood music teacher, the migre Annemarie Clarac-Schwarzenbach, and her therapist, Dr. Mary Mercer (but omits entirely her fallen-out friend composer David Diamond). Although she had been writing her autobiography for a few years, Dews (English/Univ. of West Florida) suggests, the bulk of this text was dictated because of her deteriorating physical condition, and because of this, it has both a conversational tone and a looser prose style than her earlier personal essays, not to mention unpolished construction. In addition to the extensive outline to “The Mute,” The Heart Is a Lonely Hunters first incarnation, McCullers also wanted Illumination and Night Glare bulked up with extracts from letters exchanged between herself and Reeves during WWII before they remarried, letters that chart their relationship’s fluctuations as Reeves re-wooed McCullers with grim tales of the European front, then fell silent once McCullers began writing regularly and passionately. Contains glimmerings of promised illuminations, as well as a great deal of humor about herself, but it feels hurried, as though she knew how little time she had left. (21 b&w photos, not seen) — Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.