If you’ve ever read the title of Carson McCullers’ seminal work “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter” and thought: “I’ve just read the most beautiful poem, written for me”—if you’ve ever done that—maybe you should pick up this book.
Shapland deftly writes about closeted queer desire, her own coming to terms with herself, and McCullers vs. the coded language she has long been shrouded in.
I don’t know where to put this magnificent book—but maybe it belongs with you.
“This look into the hidden life of Carson McCullers is a brilliant mix of biography and personal memoir. Shapland depicts the life of one of our most beloved and least-known authors in a search for the ultimate meaning of love. It will make you ask yourself difficult questions and delve into the complexities of your own heart. Looking at Carson, Jenn Shapland makes us all vulnerable, more human, more open.”
— Pepper Parker, Vintage Books, Vancouver, WA
“Gorgeous, symphonic, tender, and brilliant, My Autobiography of Carson McCullers is a monumental achievement." -Carmen Maria Machado
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 unabashed in their feelings. Shapland recognizes herself in the letters’ language—but does not see Carson as history has portrayed her.
And so, Shapland is compelled to undertake a recovery of the full narrative and language of Carson's life: She wades through the therapy transcripts; she stays at Carson’s childhood home, where she lounges in her bathtub and eats delivery pizza; she relives Carson’s days at her beloved Yaddo. As Shapland reckons with the expanding and collapsing distance between her and Carson, she sees the way Carson’s story has become a way to articulate something about herself. The results articulate 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.
About the Author
Jenn Shapland's work won a 2017 Pushcart Prize and fellowships/residencies at Ucross, the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Yaddo, the Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians, and Vermont Studio Center. Her essays have been published in Tin House, THE Magazine, Pastelegram, The Lifted Brow, Electric Literature, NANOfiction, and The Millions. She teaches in the Creative Writing department at the Institute of American Indian Arts and has a PhD in English from UT Austin. She designs and makes clothing for Agnes. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
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.
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?
Her stimulating book is part fan letter, part detective story, and part steely corrective.
This book will change the way you think about the truth. … 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. — Kate Gorton
This is a gorgeous, brilliant book that is all but guaranteed to resonate with queer folks, word nerds, and readers everywhere.
This book uncovers ways women’s queer history has been ignored. It’s a personal, powerful, genre-bending account of literary discovery.
Shapland interweaves candid self-questioning and revealing personal stories with a nuanced portrait of a writer who confessed her loves were 'untouchable' and her feelings 'inarticulable.' A sensitive chronicle of a biographer's search for truth.
Sleek, elegant. ... both a memoir of her own coming-out and a nuanced exploration of her magnificent obsession with the Georgia author known for her sensitive portrayals of misfits.
A fine narrative of how the best writers express the deepest secrets of the heart.
I felt so seen and moved and completed by this book that I haven’t been able to shut up about it for weeks.
This is a work of lesbian recovery, of literary biography and of breathtaking queer autobiography by an exceptional debut author.
Shapland's account is part memoir and part history, but it's also a pointed critique of the rampant LGBTQ+ erasure in so much of history, and a powerful attempt to reclaim McCullers' true identity.
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. The Autobiographies 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
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 In The Dream House
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
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.