Carson McCullers in the World: a Centenary Conference on the American Novelist

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Professor Carlos Dews

Professor Carlos Dews

From Friday, July 14 to Sunday, July 16, 2017, John Cabot University together with the Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians and the Carson McCullers Society hosted “Carson McCullers in the World: a Centenary Conference.” Carson McCullers (1917-1967) is one of the great authors of American southern literature. The international conference celebrated the hundredth anniversary of her birth. Over the course of three days, an ensemble of academics, artists, performers and film directors presented scholarly panels, art installations, and film screenings dedicated to her life.

A writer of novels, short stories, poetry, essays, and screenplays, Carson McCullers rose to prominence during the 1940s. Considered scandalous in her time, due to her lifestyle and sexuality, McCullers tackled themes of gender fluidity, homosexuality, and loneliness.

From her very first novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, McCullers focused on marginalized characters. Two of her stories, categorized as “Southern Gothic,” were adapted into a 1967 John Huston film (Reflections in a Golden Eye) and a 1963 play by Edward Albee (The Ballad of the Sad Cafè), later made into a film starring Vanessa Redgrave.

Karen Allen

Karen Allen

McCullers suffered from poor health from a very young age and had unrequited love affairs with other women throughout her life. These experiences deeply affected her life and works. Tennessee Williams, who along with Truman Capote had been one of McCullers’s closest friends, stressed the paramount importance of love and its troublesome consequences within her writing.

38 speakers from all over the world took part in the conference. The proceedings were coordinated by JCU Professor Carlos Dews, who is one of the world’s leading experts on Carson McCullers and recently published The Collected Works of Carson McCullers (Library of America, 2017), University of Arkansas Professor Casey Kayser and Columbus State University Professor Nick Norwood. The conference’s variety of topics ranged from the relationship McCullers had with art and music, to her rapport with Swiss writer and photographer Annemarie Schwarzenbach, to the literary influences of Tennessee Williams and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Lorenza Mazzetti

Lorenza Mazzetti

Two of the many activities that took place during the conference were:
– The screening of the film Together, loosely based on The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, followed by a Q&A with the director Lorenza Mazzetti.
– The European premiere of the film A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud, adapted from the short story of the same name and directed by Karen Allen, actress and star of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Starman, Animal House, Scrooged and others.

“It was such a pleasure to host the conference and welcome to JCU scholars from all over the world to consider the life and work of Carson McCullers.  It was an opportunity for scholars to consider recent work on McCullers and to encourage new scholarship and writing about the author.  I am sure the conference will be considered as a watershed in the study of Carson McCullers,” said Professor Carlos Dews.