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My Autobiography of Carson McCullers

Jenn Shapland

6 Reviews

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Biography: general

A genre-defying examination of identity, queerness and love in the vein of Maggie Nelson's Argonauts


Longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Non-fiction

How do you tell the real story of someone misremembered - an icon and idol - alongside your own? Jenn Shapland's celebrated debut is both question and answer: an immersive, surprising exploration of one of America's most beloved writers, alongside a genre-defying examination of identity, queerness, memory, obsession, and love.

Shapland is a graduate student when she first uncovers letters written to Carson McCullers by a woman named Annemarie. Though Shapland recognizes herself in the letters, which are intimate and unabashed in their feelings, she does not see McCullers as history has portrayed her. Her curiosity gives way to fixation, not just with this newly discovered side of McCullers's life, but with how we tell queer love stories. Why, Shapland asks, are the stories of women paved over by others' narratives? What happens when constant revision is required of queer women trying to navigate and self-actualize in straight spaces? And what might the tracing of McCullers's life?her history, her secrets, her legacy?reveal to Shapland about herself?

In smart, illuminating prose, Shapland interweaves her own story with McCullers's to create a vital new portrait of one of our nation's greatest literary treasures, and shows us how the writers we love and the stories we tell about ourselves make us who we are.

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Praise for My Autobiography of Carson McCullers

  • A hard-won inquiry into how we seek out the truth of ourselves and others in ways that often, by necessity, aren't straightforward, that arrive in our lives in glimmering bits and shards . . . Shapland's book is the kind of state-of-the-form reckoning that makes one wish there were more like it - New York Times Book Review

  • An unpretentious, moving record of love at the margins

  • Following along with Shapland-as-detective is a delight, and the mystery she sets out to solve is one of those wicked unsolvables: how do we account for the apertures in language, history and identity? - Los Angeles Review of Books

  • Gorgeous, symphonic, tender and brilliant

  • In lucid, distilled, honest prose, Jenn Shapland teaches us about McCullers, the desire for recognition, loneliness, the complexities of queer history, the seductions and resistances of the archive and, all throughout, love

  • Weird and un-categorisable (in a good way) - Guardian (Nonfiction to look out for in 2021)

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Jenn Shapland

Jenn Shapland is a writer and archivist living in New Mexico. Her first book, My Autobiography of Carson McCullers, was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Lambda Literary award. Her essays have won a Pushcart Prize, a Rabkin Foundation Award for art journalism, and a Howard Foundation Fellowship. She has a PhD in English from the University of Texas at Austin and is currently writing a collection of essays called Thin Skin.

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