My Autobiography of Carson McCullers
Tin House Books 2020
Swirling, lyrical, and propulsive, My Autobiography of Carson McCullers is by turns memoir, field notes from an obsession, and highly subjective chronicle of a creative life lived toward love and the process of writing. Urgent and personal, Jenn Shapland's debut brings rare freedom and wild empathy to the biographical form.
One day, during two years spent working at the Harry Ransom Center, carefully arranging and managing access to the most intimate and personal effects of deceased authors and artists, Jenn Shapland receives a request for materials from a scholar: a batch of letters between legendary Southern author Carson McCullers and Annemarie Clarac-Schwarzenbach, a woman that she's never heard of. What she finds stuns her: a clear record of fierce romantic love between Annemarie, a Swiss writer and known ladykiller, and the married (reportedly straight) Carson. The scholar who requests them never follows up, but Jenn, feeling a deep kinship with their words, plunges into an obsession, literary and otherwise. She traces Carson's steps back in bits and pieces, working at Yaddo where Carson once worked, writing and thinking in the same bathtub that Carson once wrote and thought in at the house where she convalesced from debilitating illness. Through correspondence, firsthand accounts, and conversations with Carson's doctor and longtime companion Mary Mercer, she begins to carefully unfurl a long-erased history.