"... vain, querulous and a genius"What others have said about American author Carson McCullers who is profiled in this excellent piece by Ali Smith in the Guardian.
"She needed a certain amount of alcohol in her system to function creatively"
"we know from your first book that you're a nigger-lover, and we know from this one that you're queer. We don't like queers and nigger-lovers in this town."
I discovered McCullers in my teens when, miracle of miracles, I found that the English stockroom of my school was unlocked, and inside there were piles of novels! Better still, I found that some hardworking teacher had compiled and cyclostyled long-lists of "suggested reading" for other classes and I used them as my guide to the shelves. I hid in this little room from the prefects during lunch breaks (we were supposed to be outside getting "fresh air" in often sub-arctic conditions!), sneaking books out to read at home and replacing them as soon as I'd read them. Thanks my unseen mentor, this was the best introduction to "quality" fiction that I could have had. (I think this also explains my great enthusiasm for reading lists.)
I read first The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, McCullers novel about a deaf-mute who moves to a small southern mill town, and was totally blown away by it (so much that I can still pretty much remember it in detail x decades on!). Then in rapid succession I read The Member of the Wedding, and The Ballad of the the Sad Cafe. I have an urge now to reread them ... and I wonder how they will have changed half a lifetime on? (Because of course, books always change when we aren't looking.)
McCullers, of course, was an unredeemable bookaholic herself (as all authors must be) :
She was capable of reading so deeply that she wouldn't notice her own house go up in flames around her, as once happened when she was lost in Dostoevsky. Unable as a child to stop reading Katherine Mansfield's stories when she went to the store for groceries, she carried on as she asked for the goods at the counter, then under the street lamp outside. As a fledgling writer, she was sacked from her day job as a book-keeper for a New York company when the boss found her deep in Proust's Swann's Way under the big ledger.
By the way, I came across a post on a blog some time back in which a teenage writer was talking to her teacher about award winning books and was told that such titles were "too deep" for her. I really saw red when I read that! How does anyone have the right to tell you what you can and cannot cope with at what age?