As the title My Autobiography of Carson McCullers suggests, Jenn Shapland’s book is part Shapland memoir, part McCullers bio, a hybrid that—at its beating heart—seeks to trace queer literary lineage. In the overlapping Venn diagrams of their lives, Shapland examines her own chronic illness and queerness through the lens of McCullers’s struggles with the same, a quest that begins serendipitously, as so many great quests do: Shapland interns at the University of Texas’s Harry Ransom Center, a great archival collection of writers’ documents and artifacts. While working at this library in Austin, she “meets” McCullers, an introduction that comes in the form of her love letters and the transcripts of her 1950s therapy sessions, the latter taped by McCullers with the intention of creating her own memoir. Marrying innovative methodology with compellingly honest and lyrical prose, Shapland proves what so many of McCullers’s gatekeepers have tried to ignore, even deny: McCullers was very queer indeed.
My Autobiography of Carson McCullers, by Jenn Shapland. Published by Tin House. The editor is Masie Cochran; the agent is Bill Clegg. My Autobiography of Carson McCullers is a finalist for the Publishing Triangle’s Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction; the winner will be announced on May 12.