"The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter" was published in the spring of 1940, and was immediately a literary sensation. Carson McCullers was only twenty-three years old, had lived in a small southern town for most of her life, and this was her first novel. But she had read widely in Dostoevsky, Gogol, Chekhov, Tolstoy, and Eugene O'Neill, and her knowledge and insight into her characters transcended her real experience.
Mick Kelly, the adolescent at the center of this strange and brooding novel, is very much the girl McCullers had been in Georgia -- passionately musical, and attracted to freaks and outcasts. Mick's spiritual kinship with John Singer, a deaf mute, and with other social misfits, provides a haunting look into the abyss encountered by human beings in their attempts at love.
Years later, McCullers's friend Tennessee Williams wrote that she "owned the heart and the deep understanding of it, but in addition she had that 'tongue of angels' that gave her power to sing of it, to make of it an anthem."