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Gin, Cigarettes, and Desperation: The Carson McCullers Diet

July 29, 2013 | by


From Modern Drunkard:

Carson liked sherry with her tea, brandy with her coffee, and her purse with a large flask of whiskey. Between books, when she was neither famous nor monied, she claimed she existed almost exclusively on gin, cigarettes, and desperation for weeks at a time. During her most productive years she employed a round-the-clock drinking system: she’d start the day at her typewriter with a ritual glass a beer, a way of saying it was time to work, then steadily sip sherry as she typed. If it was cold and there was no wood for the stove, she’d turn up the heat with double shots of whiskey. She concluded her workday before dinner, which she primed with a martini. Then it was off to the parties, which meant more martinis, cognac, and, oftentimes, corn whiskey. Finally, she ended the day as it began, with a bedtime beer.

Her recuperative abilities are the stuff of legend—she would rise the following morning, shake off her hangover like so much dust, down her morning beer, and get back to work.

And thank you, Michelle Dean, for drawing to our attention!




  1. FreeState | July 29, 2013 at 6:47 pm

    And a fine role model she was!

    Kids, click on over to Granta. There’s a weird little piece on karaoke in Alaska but at least it’s not gonna kill ya.

  2. OJ | July 29, 2013 at 10:20 pm

    There are arguments out there that suggest that you don’t need to be an alcoholic to be a great writer. THE THIRSTY MUSE Alcohol and the American Writer by Tom Dardis, examines this mythology:

    “To pursue this question, Dardis examines the careers and drinking habits of four great American writers: Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway and O’Neill. His argument is that while in the early stages the romance with alcohol seems to produce a sense of liberation and creativity, the long-term effects are pernicious. Of the four, only O’Neill discovered in time that the bottle would erode his writing talent. He quit drinking and in the ensuing decade of sobriety wrote some of his greatest work, “The Iceman Cometh” and “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” In the other three writers, Dardis correlates the decline of their careers with the progression of their alcoholism.”
    –SONJA BOLLE, L.A. Times.

  3. chad evans wyatt | July 30, 2013 at 7:34 pm

    Photo credit?

  4. Toon Hurkmans | July 31, 2013 at 6:16 pm

    Reminds me of Charles Bukowski.

  5. Michele Bayne | August 5, 2013 at 4:16 am

    Surely it is far more epic, though no less sad, that she had a stroke and typed most of The Ballad of the Sad Cafe with one finger?

    This article could have been much longer and more interesting. I guess there’s always wikipedia…

  6. S | February 19, 2015 at 2:38 pm

    I neither praise nor denounce her drinking but people who would otherwise not give a shit about her or Bukowski or Flann O’Brien but will take a moment to tut tut the choices they made in their vastly more interesting lives than the finger wagging prigs deserve a special contempt.

  7. Gardenia Malheur | February 19, 2015 at 3:47 pm

    to S (Feb 19, 2:38)

    You wrote: “I neither praise nor denounce her drinking but people who would otherwise not give a shit about her or Bukowski or Flann O’Brien but will take a moment to tut tut the choices they made in their vastly more interesting lives than the finger wagging prigs deserve a special contempt.”

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I cannot STAND the modern chlorinated revisionism anymore.

  8. Doug | February 19, 2015 at 4:39 pm

    These greats wrote *in spite of* their drinking, not because of it. Who knows what she could have done if she drew a sober breath.

  9. Comoro | February 19, 2015 at 6:18 pm

    The only quibble is that there are better work drugs. Unfortunately, millions of people and billions of dollars are working hard to keep them unavailable, so you can’t blame anyone for sticking with booze, which is easy to get, and cheap. As for the idea that sobriety is natural or even bearable, that’s nonsense. Nobody with other options stays sober. All your celeb heroes are high, all the time.

  10. jsto | February 19, 2015 at 6:24 pm

    It should be noted that she had lupus. Some of her drinking could be attributed to her chronic illness.

  11. Jan | February 20, 2015 at 1:55 am

    She was only 50 years old when she died. She had bad health all her life, but I can’t help but think this ‘diet’ didn’t help. It’s not so much that she drank, but that she didn’t eat. Your body can cope with punishment, but if good food isn’t ever allowed in, the body just doesn’t get the nutrition it needs to carry on. You can exist for a while on the calories from booze, but you won’t thrive. Sad.

  12. Tim Raven | February 20, 2015 at 12:25 pm

    Drinking and indulging in drugs is an effect, not a cause. People who write with heart often have a broken one, for various reasons.

  13. Mary | June 3, 2015 at 2:34 pm

    McCullers did not have lupus. You’re thinking of Flannery O’Connor.

  14. jonny | February 19, 2016 at 8:54 pm

    O’Connor ate Nilla Wafers.

  15. mg | February 19, 2016 at 9:23 pm

    So in celebration of Ms Mcullers birth anniversary- why in God’s name or no name, would you not rather post some of what she is remembered for– her writing not her imbibing– ? Party on Sadie– I usually enjoy your brief snippets and anecdotes–but to this one I’l say no thank you ma’am–

  16. Donna | February 20, 2016 at 5:46 pm

    I’m not sure Carson had lupus. Flannery did.

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  1. […] To read: Gin, Cigarettes, and Desperation: The Carson McCullers Diet […]

  2. […] people calm down by imagining their audience in underwear (EEEWWWWW) Some people take a stiff drink (tempting but not recommended) Do whatever you need to do to settle down, whether it’s deep […]

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