Variation #3441 of My Autobiography Of Carson McCullers by Jenn Shapland


Books are no less than an intimate conversation between the reader and the writer, and Shapland reminds us of this in the parallels between her life and Carson McCuller’s heavily censored biographies. Intellectual and yet deeply personal, Shapland removes the veils of objective authorship and biographical authority and delivers to us a snapshot of the Southern Gothic icon’s life. Yes, this is primarily a biography—a biography seeking to correct the other biographies, mind you—but it’s also an examination of queerness, who writes our histories, what is said in the unsaid, and the politics of cataloging and archiving each other. Very much one for the fans of Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts (Shapland even cites Nelson several times lol) and Carmen Maria Machado’s In the Dream House. Oh, and library science students, I’m looking at you!”

– Mason

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“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.

“So it isn’t about ‘is Carson a lesbian?’ or ‘Carson is a lesbian’ Or ‘what is a lesbian?’ What I want to know is, how have lesbians gotten by and had relationships and found love and community…But please, no more ‘doesn’t count unless—’ bullshit. Don’t tell me there’s not enough evidence…Call yourself a lesbian if you’ve ever loved women. Loved another woman. Period. You loved your mother? Lesbian.”

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.

Variation #3441 of My Autobiography Of Carson McCullers by Jenn Shapland