My autobiography of Carson McCullers /

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Bibliographic Details
Author / Creator:Shapland, Jenn, 1987- author.
Imprint:Portland, Oregon : Tin House Books, 2020.
Description:xv, 266 pages ; 23 cm
Format: Print Book
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Notes:Includes bibliographical references.
Summary:"While working as an intern in the archives at the Harry Ransom Center, Jenn Shapland encounters the love letters of Carson McCullers and a woman named Annemarie-letters that are tender, intimate, and unabashed in their feelings. Shapland recognizes herself in the letters' language-but does not see McCullers as history has portrayed her. And so, Shapland is compelled to undertake a recovery of the full narrative and language of McCullers's life: she wades through the therapy transcripts; she stays at McCullers's childhood home, where she lounges in her bathtub and eats delivery pizza; she relives McCullers's days at her beloved Yaddo. As Shapland reckons with the expanding and collapsing distance between her and McCullers, she sees the way McCullers's story has become a way to articulate something about herself. The results reveal 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"--
Review by Booklist Review

Interning in the archives of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Shapland followed a scholar's query to a trove of letters between novelist Carson McCullers (1917-67) and Swiss artist Annemarie Clarac-Schwarzenbach: ""I wasn't expecting love letters."" This memoir, a creative blend of probing research and emotional discoveries, including self-discovery, grew from a resulting obsession to balance the biographical record of McCullers, which generally euphemizes or casts outright doubt on her love for women. Shapland, who endured a painfully closeted relationship before fully coming into her own queer identity, finds in McCullers ""a familiarly protracted becoming."" She mines McCullers' correspondence, transcripts of her therapy sessions (which were at one point intended to become her autobiography), and other personal effects and even lives for a month in McCullers' childhood home. She discovers a woman who deeply loved other women while lacking the terms and perhaps the space to define her queer desire. Celebrating McCullers, love, and the idea that every story told includes something of its teller, Shapland writes an involving literary journey of the self.--Annie Bostrom Copyright 2020 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In this uneven hybrid biography/memoir debut, Shapland seeking affirmation of her own emergence as gay by combing archival materials for proof that author Carson McCullers was a lesbian. Predicated on Shapland's belief that "to tell another person's story, a writer must make that person some version of herself," she cites--in what reveals itself to be a nonlinear collection of observations--similarities between herself and her subject, overlaying "my own life as a writer, as a queer person, as a chronically ill person, to tell Carson's untold story." Many of Shapland's assumptions about McCullers are derived from transcripts of McCullers's taped therapy sessions during the late 1950s, during which she discussed her two tumultuous marriages to Reeves McCullers and her passionate female friendships. "Carson didn't feel shy about what the tapes contained--she aimed to publish them," Shapland explains, which made her feel "comfortable... parsing them for subtexts." Yet even she admits her findings are slippery: "I was a confused queer person looking to Carson as a role model... seeing what I wanted to see." In stating that biographies "are built of artifice and lies... and this is not a biography," Shapland's intermingled autobiography and biography of McCullers's life unsatisfyingly blurs what is real and what is imagined. (Feb.)

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Review by Library Journal Review

Mixing memoir, criticism, and biography, Pushcart Prize winner Shapland (creative writing, Inst. of American Indian Arts, Santa Fe, NM) intertwines deep research and her own quest for love into a comprehensive examination of the life and work of American novelist and short story writer Carson McCullers (1917--67). As an intern at the University of Texas at Austin's Harry Ransom Center, Shapland discovered McCullers's personal letters and was later invited to stay at the writer's home, thus began her journey toward understanding an author she'd long admired on a more intimate level. Shapland relates how parsing McCullers's work (e.g., The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter) has allowed her to articulate her own identity and explores how queer love stories are shaped and told. Along the way, Shapland defines what is means to her to be a queer woman and the truths she wishes to tell about her own life, drawing on examples from her own work. VERDICT A fine narrative of how the best writers express the deepest secrets of the heart.--Pam Kingsbury, Univ. of North Alabama, Florence

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

An intimate look at the life and loves of Carson McCullers (1917-1967)."To tell another person's story," Shapland observes in her deft, graceful literary debut, "a writer must make that person some version of herself, must find a way to inhabit her." The author knew little about McCullers before she became an intern at the Harry Ransom Center, a repository for writers' and artists' archives at the University of Texas. Responding to a scholar's request, she discovered eight letters from Swiss writer and photographer Annemarie Schwarzenbach to McCullers that struck Shapland immediately as "intimate, suggestive" love letters. For Shapland, at the time suffering the end of a "major, slow-burning catastrophe," the letters marked a "turning point." Within a week, she cut her hair short. "Within a year," she writes, "I would be more or less comfortably calling myself a lesbian for the first time." The letters inspired further research, focused especially on McCullers' sexuality, about which Shapland found intriguing evidence in transcripts of her taped therapy sessions with Dr. Mary Mercer, begun when McCullers was 41 and which McCullers described "as an attempt of writing her autobiography." In addition, following the sessions, McCullers wrote letters to Mercer "awash in the joy of self-revelation" and her "love for Dr. Mary." The more Shapland discovered about McCullers, the more convinced she became that McCullers was a lesbian who had been intensely in love with several women. Identifying with McCullers "as a writer, as a queer person, as a chronically ill person," Shapland felt she had special insight into her subject's life. At the same time, looking to McCullers "as a role model," she wondered if she was "reading into her queerness": imposing her own life story, and her own needs, on McCullers, in part to rescue her from "retroactive closeting by peers and biographers." 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. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Review by Booklist Review

Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Review by Library Journal Review

Review by Kirkus Book Review