"Carson McCullers and Rita Smith, Nyack, NY." Henri Cartier-Bresson (1947)While writing my Carson McCullers birthday post yesterday, I was looking at images on the web and came across this one of Carson with her younger sister, Margarita “Rita” Smith.
It must have been difficult living in the shadow of a famous, talented big sister yet Rita managed to carve out her own place in the literary world. She was the fiction editor of Mademoiselle and later contributing fiction editor of Redbook. She also lectured in English at Columbia University and taught at the Writers’ Workshop at the New School for Social Research. Like Carson, she wrote short stories; one of them, "She Shall Have Music," appeared along with a story by Carson in the O. Henry Prize Stories of 1943.
In addition to her noted sister, Rita is remembered for helping launch the career of Truman Capote. She was working as an editor’s assistant at Mademoiselle when one day a precocious 21-year old Truman showed up to see if the magazine would be interested in one of his short stories, “Miriam.” Impressed with his submission, Rita convinced fiction editor George Davis to publish the piece. She went on to introduce Truman to Carson and together the two sisters helped him to find an agent and became friends with their fellow Southerner. After Carson’s death in 1967, Rita became co-executor of her sister's literary estate and wrote an introduction to a posthumous collection of Carson’s work, The Mortgaged Heart. She died in 1983 at the age of 60.
But back to this photo—how much do you love it? Carson is the image of cool with her white collar and over-sized coat while Rita is so modern looking. Can't you see her sitting in a cafe on the Lower East Side or riding on the subway next to you?