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Jenn Shapland Books In Order

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Publication Order of Non-Fiction Books

My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir (2020)Description / Buy at Amazon
Thin Skin: Essays (2023)Description / Buy at Amazon

Jenn Shapland is an archivist, nonfiction, memoir, lesbian and gay author from New Mexico that is best known for her debut novel “My Autobiography of Carson McCullers.” The novel made the longlist for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in 2021 and the shortlist for the National Book Award in 2020. “Finders Keepers,” the essay she wrote in 2017 was the winner of the Pushcart Prize and also won the Rabkin Award in 2019. Her work has been supported by the Georgia O’Keeffe fellowship. She has also been an intern at the Harry Ransom Center, a resident at the Carson McCuller Center for Musicians and Artists, Yaddo, Ucross, Tin House Writers Workshop, and the Vermont Studio Center. Before she became a critically acclaimed memoir author, she had her fiction published in renowned publications such as “Lit Hub,” “O,” the “Oprah Magazine,” “Outside Online,” “The Paris Review Daily,” and “Tin House” among many others. Shapland earned her doctorate from the Texas University at Austin and is now a professor at the Institute of American Indian Arts Creative Writing department in Santa Fe. She currently lives with her partner in New Mexico from where she does her writing.

It was while Jenn Shapland was undertaking her Ph.D. at the University of Texas that she got to live the fantasy life she had always wanted. Working at the Harry Ransom Center, she had access to all manner of artists’ and writers’ archives of papers, letters, books, and belongings that were archived there. It was the dream life of any literary scholar in the world and she intended to take full advantage of it. She spent hours looking over the estates of the likes of Arthur Conan Doyle, Alice B. Toklas, and Gertrude Stein and answered a ton of questions from scholars doing research. While she had never heard of the author Carson McCullers before then, she found herself drawn to her personal effects and letters. The author had been known for writing Southern gothic novels that were populated by loners and misfits in books such as “Clock Without Hands,” “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” “Reflections in a Golden Eye,” and “The Member of the Wedding.” She had also authored several plays, a book of poems, and a short story collection.

As Jenn Shapland dug into the tragic but brilliant life of McCullers, she read about the loveless marriage, the struggles with alcoholism, and chronic illness in papers and letters that her estate had donated to the university. She archived McCuller’s objects, clothing, and photographs and for a time lived in the childhood home of the author in Columbus Georgia. She also did some research on the author’s life at the archives of Columbus University. In her research, she discovered that McCullers had written love letters to several women though she could not find any biographers that acknowledged that the author was queer. Most biographers that wrote about her classified the relationships with women as companionships, deep friendships, or sometimes unrequited affections. Determined to pen an accurate biography that reflected who the real McCullers was, her research took on a life of its own. Jenn Shapland had initially intended to write a biography but her work soon morphed into a memoir as she found a new sense of identity both as a writer and queer woman.

Jenn Shapland’s novel “My Autobiography of Carson McCullers” is an excellent attempt to tell the story of a literary icon that was misremembered. It is both question and answer as it provides a surprising and immersive exploration of one of America’s most beloved authors. She does this from the perspective of the genre-defying look at love, identity, obsession, queerness, and memory. Shapland was working for her doctorate when she found letters the author had received from Annemarie an unknown woman. The letters are unabashed and intimate and Shapland knows from what she saw that McCullers had not been presented according to what she had discovered about her. She became curious and over time, that curiosity became an obsession with the new side of the author she had discovered. Shapland started asking why the stories of queer women are paved over and written in a completely different light. Queer women are often forced to constantly revise their lives to self-actualize and navigate in straight spaces. Through working on the true life of McCullers including her legacy, secrets, and history, Shapland can learn more about herself too. In illuminating and sharp prose the author tells the story of McCullers’s and interweaves it with her own to tell the story of one of the United States’ greatest authors. She also asserts that the stories that we are forced to tell about ourselves may become just how we are later on perceived.

Book Series In Order » Authors » Jenn Shapland

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