Author Carson McCullers is best known for stories set in the deep South, but much of her work was written here in Rockland County, where she spent the final 20 years of her life in a Victorian home overlooking the Hudson River in Nyack.
McCullers’s ties to Nyack are preserved thanks to the gift of her home to Columbus State University’s Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians. The house now functions as a learning space for burgeoning artists.
Nyack, NY Is Home
“I was always homesick for a place I had never seen, and now I have found it,” McCullers wrote of Nyack. “It is here, this house, this town.”
McCullers moved to Nyack in 1945, five years after the publication of her first and best-known novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. McCullers battled illnesses since childhood, and she suffered a series of strokes that eventually left her partially paralyzed.
She moved to Nyack in part to recuperate while remaining close to New York friends and literary connections. Though she was born and raised in Georgia, McCullers spent much of her adult life in New York; she attended Columbia University, and later lived in Brooklyn and Saratoga before settling in Nyack.
The McCullers House
McCullers’s stately home is three stories and some 6,000 square feet. To help offset the costs of her medical expenses, the author had the house subdivided into apartments.
Her tenants, according to a recent Nyack News & Views article, “were as diverse and complex as the characters in her first novel.” At the time of McCullers’s death, residents included an actor, a doctor, a Haitian priest, and a musician.
The McCullers home also hosted some prominent visitors. Arthur Miller, Marilyn Monroe, Isak Denizen and Tennessee Williams were among McCullers’s guests while in Nyack.
Writing from Nyack
McCullers wrote her final two novels, The Member of the Wedding and Clock Without Hands, and completed the short-story collection The Ballad of the Sad Café in Nyack.
In her final months of life, McCullers dictated her autobiography, which would be published—unfinished—in 1999 as Illumination and Night Glare. McCullers died on Sept. 29, 1967, following a brain hemorrhage. She was 50.
McCullers’s Nyack home was purchased by Dr. Mary Mercer, a psychiatrist and longtime friend of McCullers. Mercer preserved the home and many of McCullers’s possessions, and she ran the house for years as an informal artists’ colony. In 2006, the home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
McCullers’s Nyack Legacy
Mercer died in 2013 at the age of 101, and she bequeathed the McCullers home to Georgia’s Columbus State University, which maintains McCullers’s childhood home in Columbus as a museum and operates the Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians.
The university now employs the site for “study-away” programs. These programs provide student writers and musicians an opportunity to live and study off-campus in an environment designed to foster creativity.
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