Dean Carlos Dews Participates in Carson McCullers Keynote Panel
On March 1, JCU’s Dean of Academic Affairs Carlos Dews participated in the Carson McCullers Keynote Panel “Two Places – The Inside Room and the Outside Room.” The annual program, in association with Columbus State University’s Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians and the 22nd Annual John Howard Birss, Jr. Memorial Lecture of Roger Williams University, celebrates a noteworthy author and their work. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940), Carson McCullers’s debut novel was selected for this year’s event. Also on the panel were Karen Allen (actor and director), Nick Norwood (Director of the Carson McCullers Center), and Jenn Shapland (author of the National Book Award finalist My Autobiography of Carson McCullers).
McCullers was an American author who wrote several novels inspired by her life in the deep South. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is told from the perspective of a deaf man named John Singer who encounters various eccentric characters in pursuit of acceptance.
A professor of English and one of the world’s leading scholars of McCullers, Dean Dews first encountered her work as an undergraduate at the University of Texas at Austin. “The work of McCullers has animated and sustained my personal life and academic career ever since,” he said.
Dean Dews believes that everyone should read McCullers because of her unique ability to feel for other people. “I cannot read her work without seeing her effort on every page to teach people how to be empathetic towards others,” he said. “Her motivation seems to have been to demonstrate not only why people are deserving of empathy, but also how one can foster it.” He believes that McCullers would not have had this concern had she not grown up in Columbus, Georgia in the Jim Crow South. “Especially as a queer woman, she observed that people were treated with indifference at best and hatred at worst,” he explained.
According to Dews, one of the reasons The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is McCullers’ masterpiece is because she demonstrates at the end how different characters are all deserving and in need of love. “I am not sure she did it consciously, but I think it was important for her to not only find people in her own life who could be empathetic towards her, but it was her desire to provide that to other people. That is not a bad legacy to have,” he said.
“Carson’s life, somewhat tragically, was a search for reciprocity in love. Maybe too much is made of the fact that the various people she was in love with often did not return her love. She valued these connections between people that she shows us in her work,” Dews added. “By reading her writing, you can have that same connection with her. Please do so, because you might have the same electric response that I had when I first read her. If anything can come from our conversation today, I would like people to be inspired to read and share her work.”
From 2001-2003, Dean Dews served as the Founding Director of the Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians at Columbus State University in McCullers’s hometown of Columbus, Georgia. He has edited Illumination and Night Glare: The Unfinished Autobiography of Carson McCullers (University of Wisconsin, 1999), The Complete Novels of Carson McCullers (Library of America, 2001), and Carson McCullers: Stories, Plays & Other Writings (Library of America, 2017). The Collected Letters of Carson McCullers is currently being edited by Dews and will likely be out sometime in 2024.
In Fall 2022, Dean Dews will be teaching Selected Topics in American Literature: Walt Whitman.