My Autobiography of Carson McCullers

A Memoir

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Winner of the Publishing Triangle Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction, Phi Beta Kappa Christian Gauss Award, and a Lambda Literary Award

Finalist for the National Book Award

Longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction

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.


  • A moving record of love at the margins.

    —The New Yorker

  • The kind of state-of-the-form reckoning that makes one wish there were more like it.

    —The New York Times Book Review

  • Positively breathtaking.


  • Revelatory.

    —O, The Oprah Magazine

  • Stimulating . . . part fan letter, part detective story, and part steely corrective.

    —The New York Review of Books

  • My Autobiography Of Carson McCullers asks sharp questions not just about the details of McCullers’ life but, more broadly, how we understand historical figures who confound the social expectations of their time (and our own) and how, in turn, they can help us understand ourselves.


  • A succinct, thought-provoking exploration of women’s sexuality and the language that has been used to describe and limit our desires throughout history.


  • A fascinating and intimate examination of the work of archives, research and historic preservation as well as the arc of identity and social construction. . . . [an] idiosyncratic and entirely winning book.


  • A beautiful consideration of the nature of proof, and of self and identity and queerness and history and progress.


  • This book uncovers ways women’s queer history has been ignored. It’s a personal, powerful, genre-bending account of literary discovery.

    —Book Riot, "Best Books of 2020"

  • Gorgeous, symphonic, tender, and brilliant.

    —Carmen Maria Machado, author of In The Dream House

  • Lucid, distilled, and honest.

    —Maggie Nelson, author of The Argonauts

  • 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. My Autobiography 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 Girlhood

  • Remarkable. . . . A biography that’s also a memoir, a story of obsession and longing.

    —R.O. Kwon, author of The Incendiaries

  • A gorgeous, brilliant book.

    —Electric Literature

  • 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?

    —The Los Angeles Review of Books

  • An intriguing, genre-blending debut.

    —Chicago Tribune

  • Mind-bending!

    —Emma Straub, Books Are Magic

  • A beautifully written and hard-to-categorize meditation on Carson McCullers and the hidden literary history of queer women.

    —Literary Hub

  • A mystery, a love story, a biography, several hearts on the page—I so loved this generous offering.

    —Molly Moore, BookPeople

  • A treatise on seeing yourself in someone else.


  • An exquisitely rendered map of discovery—of an icon, and of a self.

    —Lambda Literary

  • This book will change the way you think about the truth.


  • Shapland brings a sharp modern lens to her reading of McCullers’ (and her own) life.

    —A.V. Club

  • Two books in one: an examination of a famous author whose narrative has been posthumously taken away from her, but also a vital memoir of Shapland’s own experience as a queer woman looking for stories about people like her.

    —Harper's BAZAAR

  • Sensational.

    —Star Tribune

  • Shapland herself has made a major contribution to the genre of autobiography.

    —The Phi Beta Kappa Society

  • A truly brilliant approach to biography. Bold, brave and fascinating.

    —The Charlotte Observer