About Me

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Carson McCullers - On Writers and Writing

I've been reading Carson McCullers' The Mortgaged Heart: Selected Writings (Houghton Mifflin, c1971, c2005), starting with a section under Essays and Articles titled: Writers and Writing. I devoured these essays and noted a few choice quotes:

"An observer should not criticize a work of art on the grounds that it lacks certain qualities that the artist himself never intended to include. The writer has the prerogative of limiting his own scope, of staking the boundaries of his own kingdom."
~ Carson McCullers from The Russian Realists and Southern Literature, 1941

About the sting of rejection:

"The function of the artist is to execute his own indigenous vision, and having done that, to keep faith with this vision... Once a creative writer is convinced of his own intentions, he must protect his work from alien persuasion. And it is often a solitary position. We are afraid when we feel ourselves alone. And there is another special fear that torments the creator when he is too long assailed. For the parallel function of a work of art is to be communicable. Of what value is a creation that cannot be shared? The vision that blazes in a madman's eye is valueless to us. So when the artist finds a creation rejected there is the fear that his own mind has retreated to a solitary uncommunicable state."
~ Carson McCullers from The Vision Shared, c1950

From a discussion about her play, A Member of the Wedding:

"... Any form of art can only develop by means of single mutations by individual creators. If only traditional conventions are used an art will die, and the widening of an art form is bound to seem strange at first, and awkward. Any growing thing must go through awkward stages. The creator who is misunderstood because of his breach of convention may say to himself, 'I seem strange to you, but anyway I am alive.' "
~ Carson McCullers from The Vision Shared, c1950

There is another wonderful essay: The Flowering Dream: Notes on Writing. I'll excerpt a bit from it next, but I highly recommend reading The Mortgaged Heart in its entirety, for these essays, as well as Carson McCullers' early stories, her first published story, a sampling of her later work, and the introductions written by her sister, and by Joyce Carol Oates.


  1. Oh, I love this: "If only traditional conventions are used an art will die". Isn't that so, so true? I feel encouraged by this. Not that I am a big innovator or anything, but I believe in those who are.

  2. Hi Lori,
    She was a phenomenal writer. I'll write more about her later, including another series of quotes.

  3. Beautiful! I love what she says about rejection. So true. It's rough to be the lonely madwoman. Whether it's real or perceived, we all fear it. Thanks, Annie:)