We’ll start with Carson McCullers since this journey began with her. Like many writers, her first passion was actually music. She took piano lessons at an early age and showed quite a proficiency, which led her parents to push her down that career path. At the age of 17 she left her middle class home in Georgia to study piano at the Julliard School of Music in New York City--at least, that’s what she told her parents. During her last years in Georgia, however, there was a slow growing fire burning inside her to tell stories through prose and she saw New York City as the only way to feed this desire. She never made it to Julliard, but instead worked odd jobs while studying creative writing under Dorothy Scarborough at Columbia College. Her first piece, “Wunderkind,” was published in Story magazine in 1935 and her career was off and running.
The above is a happy, tidy little story of success, but her life was far from a fairy tale and her work would reflect this. Her health was always an issue, having battled rheumatic fever as a young girl and living through a series of strokes throughout her life that left her left side paralyzed by age 31. She also battled alcoholism and a brutal marriage to Reeves McCullers (see previous blog). All of this--her poor health, heartbreak and addiction--seemed to contribute to her art. As she said herself, “I want to be able to write whether in sickness or in health, for indeed, my health depends almost completely on my writing.”
Then there is her obsession with love, both good and bad. Tennessee Williams, a close friend of hers in her later years wrote, “Carson’s heart was often lonely and it was a tireless hunter for those to whom she could offer it, but it was a heart that was graced with light that eclipsed its shadows.” This is, I think, where it all begins and ends. Once again, I defer to McCullers, as she says it much better that I ever could:
The writer by nature of his profession is a dreamer and a conscious dreamer. He must imagine, and imagination takes humility, love and great courage. How can you create a character without love and the struggle that goes with love?
Now, on to the mysterious Mr. Albee. His childhood couldn’t be any more different than that of his partner in crime. The adopted son of a wealthy couple, he was pushed at a young age towards a conventional and professional life. This clearly did not work out. As he said later in life: “I never felt comfortable with adoptive parents. I don’t think they knew how to be parents. I probably didn’t know how to be a son, either.” He left home before his twentieth birthday and headed for Greenwich Village. Like McCullers, he took on an assortment of odd jobs while he toiled away at the typewriter. Where did this obsession with words come from? It’s quite simple, as he tells it:
When I was six years old I decided not that I was going to be a writer, but with my usual modesty, that I was a writer. So I started writing poetry when I was six and stopped when I was twenty-six because it was getting a little better, but not terribly much. When I was fifteen, I wrote seven hundred pages of an incredibly bad novel—it’s a very funny book that I still like a lot. Then, when I was nineteen I wrote a couple hundred pages of another novel, which wasn’t very good either. I was still determined to be a writer and since I was a writer, and here I was twenty-nine years old and I wasn’t a very good poet and I wasn’t a very good novelist, I thought I should try writing a play, which seems to have worked out a little better.
So, it was merely a process of elimination with Albee, which meant that, unlike McCullers, it took quite a while to gain the recognition. As soon as he had it figured out, though, it happened very quickly. At the age of thirty, Albee sat down at the typewriter and banged out “Zoo Story” in a flurry of creativity. His first play equalled his first success and the rest, my friends, is theatre history.
For those that are yearning for more info, a bibliography is below and there will be even more tidbits in the lobby display. Thanks for reading and I hope to see you at the show!
Your humble dramaturg,
Bottoms, Stephen, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Edward Albee. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
Burch, Ron. “The Real McCoy.” Southern Reader. 2005. 6 July 2009.
Carr, Virginia Spencer. The Lonely Hunter: A Biography of Carson McCullers. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2003.
Dews, Carlos L., ed. Illumination and Night Glare: The Unfinished Autobiography of Carson McCullers. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1999.
Gussow, Mel. Edward Albee: A Singular Journey. New York: Applause, 2001.
Infoplease. 2009. Pearson Education. 28 July 2009.
Kolin, Philip C., ed. Conversations with Edward Albee. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1988.
Rosenberg, Jennifer. “1930s Timeline.” About.com. 28 July 2009.
Rosenberg, Jennifer. “1910s Timeline.” About.com. 28 July 2009.
Taylor, Col. Samuel. “Depression and War.” Our Georgia History. 19 July 2009.
The New Georgia Encyclopedia. 6 April 2005. University of Georgia. 6 July 2009.
Thompson, Neal. Driving With the Devil. New York: Crown Publishing, 2006.
Wikipedia. 2009. Wikipedia Foundation. 1 July-28 July 2009.