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My Autobiography of Carson McCullers

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  1,190 ratings  ·  257 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 Annemarie―letters are that are tender, intimate, and u
Hardcover, 266 pages
Published February 4th 2020 by Tin House Books
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Bailey As the author indicates in the book and blurb, Shapland uses Carson's therapy transcripts as a primary source--Carson was hoping to use the transcript…moreAs the author indicates in the book and blurb, Shapland uses Carson's therapy transcripts as a primary source--Carson was hoping to use the transcripts to construct her own autobiography. Shapland additionally uses many other archival documents and items that pull in Carson's own voice, such as letters to friends and lovers and clothing. That's the point of the oxymoronic title "my autobiography" -- the book uses Carson's own voice to construct the narrative, while also drawing from history and queer theory and a healthy mix of memior from the author. (less)

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Jenn Shapland
Sep 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
I’ve read this so many times 🙃
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 explain
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I feel like this is a standout read for this year and I hope I can explain why. Jenn Shapland explores her own life and identity through in-depth, multi-faceted, largely archival research of Carson McCullers, from her wardrobe to love letters to recordings of therapy sessions. Shapland lives at her house in Columbus, Georgia while working in the archives there, and traces her steps at Yaddo. She discovers scholars past and present all too willing to explain away McCullers' love of women, and in ...more
Jan 12, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: recs, 2021
deeply empathetic writing: Shepland reimagines the life of Carson McCullers and recounts how, through learning more about Carson's queerness, she was able to embrace her own. ...more
Feb 01, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Many of us find it appealing to visit the homes of writers, soaking up the atmosphere, getting a sense of the way they wrote, through their things. Shapland, an archivist, relates what she did and how she felt during her stay at McCullers’ house/museum in Columbus, Georgia, in preparation for writing this book. And even though I spent just one night in an apartment above the Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, I understood (though while reading of McCullers’s home, I was re ...more
Jerrie (redwritinghood)
Oct 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was a strange mix of biography and memoir. The author thinks about her own life as she works on a biography of Carson McCullers. Mainly written in vignettes, I found this engaging.
Feb 17, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir-biography
2.5, rounded up

Jenn Shapland’s 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 f
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
May 16, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020
I love queers writing about queers, but I don't think this story stands up to book form - it would have worked better as a think piece. There isn't too much new content here, other than outing McCullers on the record. And maybe I'm totally wrong, but I thought it was generally accepted that McCullers was into ladies?

This is my central issue: you don't get to evade the question, 'What claim do I have on a stranger's life?' by admitting that it's difficult to answer. Shapland continually inserts h
Mar 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoirs, non-fic
I was hesitant about this book bc I don’t 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 you’re first coming out and desperate for any form of representation, feeling seen. Queer visibility is s ...more
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 i
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. It’s deeply engaging, it’s history and biography in a deeply personal and irreverent tone, and it’s 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 t ...more
Nov 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Archives have been popping up all over my life lately. It started with reading Hugh Ryan’s WHEN BROOKLYN WAS QUEER, and continued when I read Tegan and Sara Quin’s 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 is ...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?! ...more
Sian Lile-Pastore
loved this - all about the amazing Carson Mcullers and also about Jenn, and being queer, and how people have been queer historically, and chronic illness and books and writing.
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 lore…how did she write like that so young? And the style…the 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 slo
Jun 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Such a smart, honest and yes, loving book. This is how biographies should all be written: as a conversation. I learned so much and love Carson McCullers even more of finishing.
Jan 04, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: queer-favs
CALL! IT! LOVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

this is a perfect book.
Dec 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing

“maybe it’s just that her relationships with women are partial, hard to compile. to piece them together, you have to read like a queer person, like someone who knows how to look for reflections of your own experience in even the most unlikely places.”

as someone with an already-existing goodreads tag “lesbian archives,” i don’t even know where to begin with how perfect this book is. as biography, as memoir, as queer literary history, it’s what i’ve always dreamed of; at one point shapland notes a
Nishta Mehra
Dec 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
I liked a great deal about this book - the structural weaving, the project of giving queer love (especially between women) room to be known for what it was and is - the examination of the intersection of chronic pain and the writing process - but in the final third of the book, I found myself really frustrated by the lack of awareness around potential blind spots related to race. At this point, I should not be surprised but I am disappointed.
Jan 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The blurbs on the cover of Jenn Shapland’s 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 Machado’s comments are poignant since her superb release, *In the Dream House*, is doing similar work (and is super well received). Both aim
Robert Vaughan
May 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Let's call it what it is: superb. ...more
Courtney Maum
May 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Several months ago, I read an article Jenn Shapland wrote for O Magazine about stumbling upon Carson McCullers's letters to heiress Annemarie Schwarzenbach and recognizing that romantic love, not friendship, was being expressed. As a 21st century woman who also loves women, Shapland saw her own feelings mirrored back to her and wanted to dig deeper into the records of a relationship erased by history.

Queer history pre-Stonewall is a subject I've become more and more interested in over the last
Jan 14, 2021 rated it really liked it
Being deeply interested in projects that queer the archives and reclaim narratives, this book was a shot to my veins and set my brain on fire. Biographers and history sought to erase McCullers’s chronic illness and her love of women but Shapland inserted herself and her own experience of her sexuality and with POTS into the narrative and the archive to shine a light on what is undeniable. This is genre-defying narrative non-fiction of the highest order. I want someone to do exactly this with Dor ...more
Nov 29, 2020 rated it liked it
This was okay for me. Interesting story and format.
M. Sarki
Dec 19, 2019 rated it liked it

...To tell her own story, a writer must make herself a character. To tell another person’s 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
Dec 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing

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

...Shapland possesses the perfect storm of talents to push McCullers’s 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 Sh
"Queer narratives are all over the place, and queer people frequently take a long time to figure shit out. They live many lives in the space of one life, often with different identities, genders, pronouns, bodies, and styles. Queer narratives demand new forms, and I would love to see more queer writing that fucks with all different genres and literary conventions."

Me too, Jenn! And yours is an excellent example. Reading this book felt like it was written especially for me 🖤

(I read about Carson b
Dec 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I think I first heard about this book on Russell's Ink and Paper Blog's YouTube top 7 books of 2020 posted on July 7, 2020 at

I added it to my TBR, and then moved it up when I saw Jenny review it on Instagram at

Wow! This is one of those books that I wish I could re-live the experience of reading for the first time. I'm very tempted to listen to the audio version which Jenn Shapland narrates.
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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. ...more

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