My Autobiography of Carson McCullers (Tin House)
While working as an intern in the archives at the Harry Ransom Center, Jenn Shapland encounters the love letters of Carson McCullers and a woman named Annemarie—letters that are tender, intimate, and unabashed in their feelings. Shapland recognizes herself in the letters’ language—but does not see McCullers as history has portrayed her.
And so, Shapland is compelled to undertake a recovery of the full narrative and language of McCullers’s life: she wades through the therapy transcripts; she stays at McCullers’s childhood home, where she lounges in her bathtub and eats delivery pizza; she relives McCullers’s days at her beloved Yaddo. As Shapland reckons with the expanding and collapsing distance between her and McCullers, she sees how McCullers’s story has become a way to articulate something about herself. The results reveal something entirely new not only about this one remarkable, walleyed life, but about the way we tell queer love stories.
In genre-defying vignettes, Jenn Shapland interweaves her own story with Carson McCullers’s to create a vital new portrait of one of America’s most beloved writers, and shows us how the writers we love and the stories we tell about ourselves make us who we are.
Praise for My Autobiography of Carson McCullers:
“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.”
- Maggie Nelson, author of The Argonauts
“Gorgeous, symphonic, tender, and brilliant, My Autobiography of Carson McCullers is a monumental achievement. In this genre-bending work of nonfiction, Shapland brings the full weight of her intellect to bear on one of literature’s most important questions: How do queer readers find the truth―and themselves―between the lines?”
- Carmen Maria Machado, author of Her Body and Other Parties
“You don’t have to be a Carson McCullers fan to admire this remarkable book. It’s a biography that’s also a memoir, a story of obsession and longing. Captivating and trenchant and moving, Shapland’s genre-mixing debut will stay with me a long time.”
- R.O. Kwon, author of The Incendiaries
“You do not need to be a queer woman, a lover of Carson McCuller's fiction, or interested in the mysterious junctures between our own lives and those of our favorite artists to love this book, but for those of us who are those things, Jenn Shapland's memoir is a particular trove of delights. My favorite biographies are full of historical literary gossip and interested in the shadow selves of public persons. My favorite memoirs are those that scrutinize the self as an unreliable source of narrative truth and the one we must nonetheless rely upon. My Autobiography of Carson McCullers manages to do all of this in earnest and honest and riveting vignettes. It is a detective story and a dissection of selfhood, a puzzle every piece of which pleased me as it clicked into place.”
- Melissa Febos, author of Abandon Me and Whip Smart
“Jenn Shapland’s My Autobiography of Carson McCullers is indeed part autobiography, part criticism, part memoir, and 100% human, reminding us of how books and writers can take our hands and lead us to uncover the mystery of our hearts. I’ve never read a book quite like it.”
- Ann Hood
Jenn Shapland is a writer living in New Mexico. Her nonfiction has been published in O, the Oprah Magazine, Tin House, Outside online, The Lifted Brow, Electric Literature, and elsewhere. Her essay "Finders, Keepers" won a 2017 Pushcart Prize, and she was awarded the 2019 Rabkin Foundation Award for art journalism for "Thirteen Ways of Moving to the Desert" and "Field Report: El Paso + Juárez." She has a PhD in English from the University of Texas at Austin. Her work has received support from the Georgia O'Keeffe fellowship, residencies at Ucross, Yaddo, the Carson McCullers Center for Artists and Musicians, and Vermont Studio Center, the Tin House Writers Workshop, and the Harry Ransom Center graduate internship.
Andy Campbell, PhD, is an art historian, critic, and curator. With more than a decade of experience in higher education and museum institutions, Campbell’s projects focus on the juncture of identity-based political movement, visual culture, and art’s histories. He is currently Assistant Professor of Critical Studies at USC-Roski School of Art and Design.