Tribute to Lynn Cullen

I first met Lynn Cullen in April of 2012 at the Townsend Prize Award Ceremony. Her novel, Reign of Madness, and mine were two of the ten finalists. I was overwhelmed and feeling a bit like a fish out of water when Lynn came up and introduced herself. She drew me into a conversation about books and had me laughing in no time.  This would not be the last time I would experience her warm calming light.

What constitutes giving a Lifetime Achievement Award? I googled for a definition. Here is what I learned: Lifetime Achievement is given to those who have dedicated their lives to a worthy cause and/or somehow made an impact in the lives of others. A Lifetime Achievement recipient has notable successes. An author receiving this award is recognized for their writing and serving readers.

Lynn Cullen’s first published bookThe Backyard Ghost—about a girl who found the ghost of a Civil War Soldier in her Atlanta backyard—came in 1993. She had three middle-grade daughters at the time and this book evolved naturally. She went on to write fourteen children’s books, from picture books to middle-grade. In her children books and those novels to come, she infused her passion for history. I Am Rembrandt’s Daughter was her young adult novel. Then came The Creation Of Eve and Reign Of Madness both adult historical fiction

But, lives change, go sideways, in a small slice of time. We can identify with this truth because coronavirus blankets our country. And what we never imagined would happen, did. Lynn couldn’t dodge what came into her family after Reign Of Madness was published. Her husband fell ill and was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, an illness with a low survival rate. Defying the doctor’s dire predictions, Lynn’s husband survived, but the couple had to face a lengthy recovery period. Amidst the turmoil and extreme stress her publisher pulled out of the third novel in a three-book deal, leaving Lynn stunned and creatively dead, or so she thought. Then one morning as she put fresh sheets on the bed, a thought about Edgar Allan Poe and his mistress, Frances Osgood, went through her mind. She had always been a fan of Poe’s history and writings. The myths surrounding the classic author were most people’s truths. Some schools taught, and possibly still teach, the myths as facts without knowing Poe’s enemies had slandered him. In the moment of a mundane task, a glimmer of a story was born, a story very different from anything Lynn had written. But at this point in her career, she was free to write whatever she pleased and wrote her heart out. The book was accepted for publication, and she regained her footing.

Mrs. Poe is one of those novels that invades a reader’s head and remains, taking up permanent residency. Lynn had reinvented her work when her career looked finished. Her next book Twain’s End was a book about the country’s iconic hero, Mark Twain. Again she separated myth from facts. Her most recent book, Sisters Of Summit Avenue tackles the story of Betty Crocker, the dynamics of mothers, daughters, and sisters, misunderstandings, and heartbreak.

These days Lynn can be found in her backyard sanctuary. One only needs to visit her Facebook page to find all the species of birds that populate this area. Much of her writing takes place in her beloved nature, whether she runs a fan to keep mosquitoes away in Atlanta’s humid, sticky summers or wears fingerless gloves and bundles in the cold of the winter. Books are forged with inspiration and on challenging days pure grit. And if you were to drop in on her, you would be made to feel she had known you her whole life. Her generosity and goodwill for fellow writers is known throughout the intricate community. She inspires and encourages, never showing impatience.

The 56th Georgia Writers Lifetime Achievement Award goes to Lynn Cullen not only for her outstanding accomplishments in historical fiction for all ages, but for her compassionate, generous nature. A woman whose empathy and social awareness has touched the lives of her readers and writers everywhere. This writer is humbled to know her.

Ann Hite

Novelist Lynn Cullen photographed in the studio by Parker Smith. (ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)

Lynn Cullen has lived in intown Atlanta for thirty-six years. Her novel, Mrs. Poe, a national bestseller, was named a Book of the Week by People Magazine, a Target Book Club Pick, an NPR 2013 Great Read, an Indie Next List selection, a Penny’s Pick at Costco, an Oprah Book of the Week, and Best of 2013 by Atlanta Magazine. Her novel, Twain’s End, was a People Magazine Book of the Week, a Townsend Prize finalist, named a Book All Georgians Should Read by the Georgia Center for the Book, an Indie Next pick, and was featured, as was Mrs. Poe, in the New York Times Book Review Shortlist.  The Sisters of Summit Avenue was a Fall 2019 Publisher’s Weekly Buzz Book and received an American Library Association Booklist starred review. Her novels have been translated into seventeen languages and she has appeared on PBS American Masters. She is not done yet.