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FINALIST FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD

Longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Non-fiction


How do you tell the real story of someone misremembered – an icon and idol – alongside your own? Jenn Shapland’s celebrated debut is both question and answer: an immersive, surprising exploration of one of America’s most beloved writers, alongside a genre-defying examination of identity, queerness, memory, obsession, and love.

Shapland is a graduate student when she first uncovers letters written to Carson McCullers by a woman named Annemarie. Though Shapland recognizes herself in the letters, which are intimate and unabashed in their feelings, she does not see McCullers as history has portrayed her. Her curiosity gives way to fixation, not just with this newly discovered side of McCullers’s life, but with how we tell queer love stories. Why, Shapland asks, are the stories of women paved over by others’ narratives? What happens when constant revision is required of queer women trying to navigate and self-actualize in straight spaces? And what might the tracing of McCullers’s life?her history, her secrets, her legacy?reveal to Shapland about herself?

In smart, illuminating prose, Shapland interweaves her own story with McCullers’s to create a vital new portrait of one of our nation’s greatest literary treasures, and shows us how the writers we love and the stories we tell about ourselves make us who we are.

Reviews

A very interesting and innovative work
Irish Times
Weird and un-categorisable (in a good way)
Guardian (Nonfiction to look out for in 2021)
The truth about Carson McCullers, the great American gothic writer, is finally told . . . What makes this such an unusual work, far removed from conventional biography, is that it's as much Shapland's story as it is McCullers's. In the process of recasting McCullers, Shapland finds her own identity . . . My Autobiography of Carson McCullers is the result: impeccably young, modern and fresh, an assertion of lesbian liberation. Political and at times polemical, it's a call to arms to reappraise past lives . . . beautifully and sparsely written
Melanie Reid, The Times (Ireland)
Weaves together biography and memoir . . . Shards of the author's own life glitter amid the story of McCullers's triumphs and struggles . . . A lively cast of walk-on characters includes Tennessee Williams, Elizabeth Bowen, Edith Sitwell and Robert Lowell . . . But it is Shapland's identification with her subject that energises the book . . . Only an accomplished writer could marshal this tricky material in order to enmesh two stories. The reader sees McCullers afresh in these pages . . . The politics of female queerness are central to this book, and Shapland handles the subject adroidy. At the same time, this volume, which I admire and recommend without reservation, speaks clearly and universally of the human heart, and specifically of the human heart in conflict with itself
Sara Wheeler, Literary Review