Author Carol Shields was born in Oak Park, Il, youngest of three kids, in 1935. Her parents encouraged her in her writing, and she wrote sonnets in high school. She earned her BA in English at Hanover College and then went to the University of Exeter, where she met a civil engineer, Donald Shields; the couple married in 1957, moved to Canada, and had five children, all now grown. She received her MA from the University of Ottawa in 1975. Shields has taught English at the University of Ottawa, the University of British Columbia, and the University of Manitoba, where she was on the faculty until 1999.
Sheilds came into the public eye in 1995 with the publication of her novel The Stone Diaries, for which she won the Governor General's Award and the Pulitzer Prize; it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Hailed at the time as an "overnight success", Shields had in fact been in print since the early 70s. She has written twenty books, including novels, short stories, essays, plays, criticism and a biography of Jane Austen. Her 1997 novel, Larry’s Party was shortlisted for Canada’s Giller Prize and won England’s Orange Prize, given to the best book by a woman writer in the English-speaking world. She has been Chancellor of the University of Winnipeg and has received The Order of Canada and eight honorary doctorates.
What pleases and charms about Shields' work is her simple straightforward and beautiful prose, describing simple ordinary lives, usually, though not always, the lives of women. She can skillfully weave together the voices of several narrators - Happenstance, for example, is separated into two parts, the first narrated by the husband, the other by the wife. She has a keen sense the importance of women's lives in history and society.
In 1999 Shields was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. Two days after her diagnosis she had a mastectomy and then underwent a six-month course of radiation and chemotherapy therapy. She has recently published Unless, which she has said is her last novel. Shields and her husband have moved to Victoria, BC, where she is, it appears, dying of cancer.
Update, July 16, 2003: Carol Shields died today after a long battle with breast cancer. We have lost a great writer.
On the craft of writing:
I try to write about what passionately interests me at the time. Five hundred words a day - that's what I try for.
Advice to new writers:
Read. Read only good writing, no junk. Give up television.
Selected works by Carol Shields: