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My Autobiography of Carson McCullers

4.30  ·  Rating details ·  230 ratings  ·  63 reviews
My Autobiography of Carson McCullers is an audacious new form of nonfiction that remakes the boundaries between criticism, biography, and autobiography in search of two identities.

While working as an intern in the archives at the Harry Ransom Center, Jenn Shapland encounters the love letters of Carson and a woman named Annemarieletters are that are tender, intimate, and
Hardcover, 266 pages
Published February 4th 2020 by Tin House Books
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Diane S ☔
Feb 19, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: pul2020
I have to admit I am having difficulty processing this new writing style if blending genres. Here we have a memoir, a biography, some queer history and searching for answers. I enjoyed reading about the author living in Carson's house as she tries to assemble the information she has collected, and writing this book. She uses multiple sources, showing Carson's queer identity, including letters.

The book goes back and forth, the authors own struggle and acceptance of her own sexuality. She
Jenn Shapland
Sep 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
Ive read this so many times 🙃 ...more
Feb 17, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir-biography
2.5, rounded up

Jenn Shaplands My Autobiography of Carson McCullers is a mix of genres: memoir, biography, queer history and a modicum of literary criticism. The book is also a detective story of sorts, an admittedly obsessive investigation into whether McCullers was a lesbian, something her biographers have failed to make clear. Mixing memoir and a biography of a fascinating life would be an unwieldy challenge but, working with resources unavailable to previous biographers, the author smartly
Mar 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fic, memoirs
I was hesitant about this book bc I dont know *anything* about Carson McCullers and it completely blew me away. This book is an outstanding genre-blending hybrid memoir/biography. Shapland is in her twenties and coming out of a 6yr closeted relationship when she reads letters McCullers wrote to a woman. She instantly recognizes queer desire. This book resonated so much bc I so remember when youre first coming out and desperate for any form of representation, feeling seen. Queer visibility is ...more
Mar 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
The new archival materials that Shapland brings into the biographical record on McCullers are wonderfully exciting, treasures: letters from Carson's crush the hot mess Annemarie Schwarzenbach, transcripts of McCullers' therapy sessions with Dr. Mary Mercer, who was--Shapland persuasively argues--likely a late-in-life lover. I loved reading about McCullers' life and loves and the problem of queer/lesbian erasure in the archive. I was frustrated/bewildered by Shapland's insistence on lesbian as a ...more
Feb 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
If you're an avid reader, read this book just to read something written in an entirely different format. Part biography, part memoir - it's woven together in such a fascinating way. I really liked it. Plus, now I'm fascinated with library archives. Who knew?!
Mar 15, 2020 rated it liked it
I was drawn to reading this book for the same reason that the author was drawn to writing it a fascination with Carson McCullers. Yes, there is the writing so honest and heartbreaking and preternaturally wise. And the lorehow did she write like that so young? And the stylethe blunt hair and pixie face and wide cuffed trousers. I have been enchanted by all of it as Shapland clearly has in that in writing McCullers story she has written herself in tandem:

But in my own life, identity was slow to
Feb 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
I had a lot of complicated feelings in reaction to this book, so like, bear with me. Its deeply engaging, its history and biography in a deeply personal and irreverent tone, and its all packaged into these microchapters that seem to be all the rage right now. If you went by the title, you might think this book was about Carson McCullers, and reading this book you will learn a great deal about Carson McCullers, but I think really, this book is about Jenn Shapland learning to define herself ...more
Feb 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
piercing original and victorious in a way i wasnt expecting, a new course, a journey in shapeshifting and recovering and hoping through jaggedness. love as a fractured and poetic selfhood. truly loved this book.
Nov 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Archives have been popping up all over my life lately. It started with reading Hugh Ryans WHEN BROOKLYN WAS QUEER, and continued when I read Tegan and Sara Quins HIGH SCHOOL, which led me down a road of unearthing my own archives aka my middle & high school journals, and *then* I was in a craft intensive taught by Kali Fajardo-Anstine last week where we talked a lot about what archives are, who gets to have them, and who tells stories even?! All of this brought me here, to this book, which ...more
M. Sarki
Dec 19, 2019 rated it liked it

...To tell her own story, a writer must make herself a character. To tell another persons story, a writer must make that person some version of herself, must find a way to inhabit her...

For the record I am not positively opinionated of all women writers, just as I am less positive of all male writers, positive in the sense that the writer is indeed talented, or great, or even has potential. But I do know what I like and in the first couple of paragraphs
Feb 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: lgbt, woman-authored
What is a queer story and how do we tell it? What form should it take and who gets to tell our stories? Jenn Shapland's "My Autobiography of Carson McCullers," a book that is not quite memoir, not quite biography, asks these questions and in return reveals a soulful answer for queer readers.

Shapland, a cynical academic ready to leave the ivory tower in search of something else, stumbles upon letters between Carson McCullers and her therapist-turned-friend (and maybe lover), Mary. These letters
Jan 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The blurbs on the cover of Jenn Shaplands new book out next week from @tin_house are spot on.

Maggie Nelson says Shapland teaches us about love; but she also teaches us about the problematics of writing biography, institutionalized queer erasure, the self-betrayal of closeted desire, and a lot of about Carson McCullers in relatively few words.

Carmen Maria Machados comments are poignant since her superb release, *In the Dream House*, is doing similar work (and is super well received). Both aim to
Dec 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing

It has taken over 50 years for us to get the full, queer truth about Carson McCullerss life, and now I know why. We were waiting for Jenn Shapland...

...Shapland possesses the perfect storm of talents to push McCullerss love life, and beautiful writing, into the light of this century during a moment when we need all the queer heroes we can get. In My Autobiography of Carson McCullers, we regain one hero, and discover another: McCullers and
Cherise Wolas
An interesting, clever, thoughtful, edifying, tender, and intimate multi-genre nonfiction book about Carson McCullers, Shapland, writers, finding one's identity, queerness, and its history, closeted lesbians, what it means to be in the closet, or out of it, what a queer person must do to establish themselves as "real," it's about love, illness, about the sick person, the invalid deemed "invalid," and for women, their illnesses are frequently, even today, perceived as psychological/emotional; ...more
Deirdre Sugiuchi
Feb 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Devoured this in one day. Incredible exploration of Carson McCullers life and the erasure of her queer identity, interwoven with life of author Jenn Shapland. Will definitely read again. Highly recommended.
Emily  Carroll
Mar 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I devoured this book in one day.
Nov 01, 2019 rated it liked it
Shapland's first book, My Autobiography of Carson McCullers, however, is probably not the best showcase of her talent. In most cases, I enjoy books that cross genre lines, but this mashup of queer history, literary criticism, and memoir is just not smooth.

See my full review here.
Uriel Perez
Aug 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
'My Autobiography of Carson McCullers' gives us unfettered access into the lives of two writers: Jenn Shapland, grad student and archivist, wading through the murky waters of her queerness; Carson McCullers, the oft-misunderstood phenom behind the beloved 'The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.' And it is by sheer accident (maybe fate) that their stories meet.

Employing a dazzling blend of memoir and biography, Shapland describes a chance encounter with McCullers' letters, re-introduces us to one of the
Chris Browning
Mar 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Three years ago, I was a sophomore in college and the first relationship that I could even come close to calling real had just dissolved, mostly because of an inability to act on my part (i'll spare the details, but it was a long distance thing; neither of us ever saw the other in person, and the plans to do so were scuttled as a result of my own anxieties). I was working at an internship I hated, writing press material and managing social media for a college press, and life was generally not ...more
Feb 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book was magical. I loved the self-aware approach to biography, in which the author Jenn Shapland questioned her own motives for desiring to write a biography of Carson in the first place throughout. It felt respectful and authentic. If you like Carson's work, I think this is a must-read. I have read both The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter and The Ballad of the Sad Cafe and found them both powerful and wonderful. I personally look up to and admire Carson as an example of an empathetic, talented ...more
Johanna DeBiase
Mar 25, 2020 rated it liked it
The title of Jenn Shaplands debut book of nonfiction might seem confusing at first. My Autobiography of Carson McCullers seems to be an oxymoron. An autobiography is written by the author about the author, so how can it be an autobiography of somebody else? Yet, everything begins to make terrific sense once you delve in.
Shapland describes it best, To tell her own story, a writer must make herself a character. To tell another persons story, a writer must make that person some version of herself,
Mar 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
My Autobiography of Carson McCullers, Jenn Shapland, 266 pages. Confession: I misread a review of this book and thought I was getting a mixed-form novel. No, its a mixed form memoir/biography that, however, does read much like a novel. Shaplands voice is clean and honest. Her effort to out Carson McCullers as a lesbian, while at the same time outing herself and her own struggles with sexual identity is eye-opening. Most of the gays Ive talked with have assured me they were certain of their ...more
Molly Ringle
Mar 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: lgbtq, nonfiction
A quirky, quiet, yet fascinating book! I knew very little about Carson McCullers going in, not to mention the other authors and celebrities Carson knew (who get brought up in this book), but that was all right. Jenn Shapland wrote such an enticing, and seemingly never-quite-told-before, version of Carson's life that I feel I know her (Carson, that is) better than I know many of the authors with whose work I'm far more familiar.

Shapland's central point rings entirely true: that historians and
Alice Crowe
Mar 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
3.8 / 5

My Autobiography of Carson McCullers weaves memoir, reflections on gay history, literary criticism, and biography. Shapland shows us what it can mean to become lovingly obsessed with someone who died before you were born and was never publicly recognized for what you also are: Lesbian.

What is biography? What does it mean to try to 'prove' that a historical person was a lesbian? What is it like in the closet, as women? She invites us to join her digging through scraps of our lost,
Feb 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Jenn Shapland's book is one which has sent me down numerous rabbit holes, and I've enjoyed every single one of them. Written in mostly short chapters, its style was very reminiscent of Machado's Dream House, though dealing with physical archives rather than emotional ones. The relationship that Shapland writes between herself and Carson McCullers (and a relationship really is the best way to describe how she's engaging with McCuller's house, letters, life) seems to come about naturally, and so ...more
Jan 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I really loved this book. Its a heartfelt and interesting exploration of the ways we interpret history, our own and others. It really gets one questioning whether its even possible to tell an accurate story about a persons life based on evidence when there is so much that gets lost or intentionally omitted. I really connected with the authors ambivalence toward the project of biography and the frustration with the tendency to fall back into a heteronormative narrative, even when it makes less ...more
Mar 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a really innovate and fascinating look at Carson McCullers, and more broadly, at queer invisibility in history and the double standards set for "proving" someone's queerness in the past. I love books like this that play with structure and form, and Shapland does a beautiful job here--there's a rigorous examination of McCullers's life, but Shapland never vanishes from the narrative; she's front and center. She does not try to be objective in any way. It's a refreshing way to read history, ...more
Jan 31, 2020 rated it it was ok
There were several distinct facets of this book. One is an interesting recounting of an authors life and the writers process in discovering her life and work. I was particularly interested in her description of her work in the archive. Another facet was the writers solipsistic declarations about the nature of identity and love. There is no objectivity at all in this narrative, which makes it something other than a biography. There is too much about a person the writer has never met to make it a ...more
Kim Gausepohl
Feb 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This reads like the best type of dissertation engaging, interesting, well-researched, evidenced-based, with a strong point of view. The blend of biography and memoir allows the author to inject her own voice and experiences into the text (e.g., Oyster stew, lesbian readers!), which creates an intimacy between the author and reader. The interest in artifacts / personal effects as a means of understanding a person was an unique perspective and allowed for beautiful imagery (e.g., the blue chair, ...more
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Jenn Shapland is a writer living in New Mexico. Her nonfiction has been published in Tin House, Outside, The Lifted Brow, Electric Literature, and elsewhere. Her essay "Finders, Keepers" won a 2017. Pushcart Prize. She teaches as an adjunct in the Creative Writing department at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. This is her first book.

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