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Carson McCullers, a Southerner in South Nyack

by Natalie Korman

Carson McCullers, a celebrated author who lived in South Nyack from 1945 until the time of her death in 1967, always wrote about her original home, the South. At the age of just twenty-three, she published her debut novel The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, which chronicles the lonely lives of the citizens of a small town in her home state of Georgia. It was a huge success, now considered part of the American canon, named by Time as one of the best English-language books of the 20th century. Even her novella, The Member of Wedding–which was written during her years in Nyack and made into a hit Broadway play and Hollywood movie–is about coming of age in the South.

Though she lived, died and was buried in Nyack, she will always be known as a Southern Gothic writer, named in the same breath as writers like Flannery O’Connor and Truman Capote. She was good friends with the great playwright, Tennessee Williams, whose name bespeaks his origins. But though the town on the Hudson was not featured in her stories, the writer did not reject Nyack at all.

In fact, she felt a close bond to it, especially as a place where art flourished. In a biography of McCullers by Josayne Savigneau, “Carson McCullers: A Life” the author is quoted as saying that Nyack was “wide open to the world. Our community, Nyack and its environs, is indeed proud of its artists, and for the best of reasons Nyack is my adopted home, where I have lived for more than ten years. I did not want to live in a self-conscious ‘arty’ community. Nyack, while proud of its artists, is not a self-conscious town.”

McCullers’ description of Nyack is relevant today. The arts and the arts’ link to the cultural and physical makeup of Nyack are immediate concerns of many Nyack residents today. Carson McCullers spoke highly of other artists like Helen Hayes who resided here, modestly leaving herself out of the mix of greats. It is difficult to know whether McCullers knew what an indelible mark she would make on Nyack. She was a celebrity in her own right, with her close connections with Broadway and Hollywood. She even hosted a party on South Broadway in 1959 where guests included Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe. Though she traveled back and forth to Paris, New York, solidifying herself as great in literary circles, she always came home to Nyack.

McCullers’ Georgia birthplace is also home to the Carson McCullers Center at Columbus State University. The Website for the center includes a section on Nyack which hopes to one day “…maintain a lasting tribute to Carson McCullers [by leaving] McCullers’ house in Nyack, New York, to Columbus State University.” The McCullers house in Nyack is included in the National Register of Historic Places.

Nyack is still ‘proud of our artists,’ including Carson McCullers herself.

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