Carol Ann Warner Shields was born on June 2, 1935, in Oak Park, Illinois, a middle-class community on the outskirts of Chicago. After graduating from a local high school, she attended Hanover College. While there, she participated in an exchange program with Exeter University in England where, when traveling to Scotland, she met her future husband, Canadian civil engineer Donald Hugh Shields. In 1957, Carol graduated from Hanover with a B.A. in English. Soon afterward, she married Donald, and the two moved to Canada. There, the couple lived in Vancouver, Toronto, and finally Ottawa. Two of their five children were born during this time: John and Anne. The Shields family moved to England in 1960 so that Donald could complete a doctorate at Manchester University. When the family returned to Canada, they settled in Toronto, where Shields took a magazine writing course at the University of Toronto. Her teacher sold Shields’s first short story to the Canadian Broadcast Company (CBC); she won CBC’s Young Writers Competition in 1965.
Meanwhile, Shields’s family continued to grow: Daughters Catherine, Margaret, and Sara were born. Carol enrolled in an M.A. program at the University of Ottawa and earned her degree in 1975 after writing a thesis on a nineteenth century Canadian writer, which became the basis for her critical book Susanna Moodie: Voice and Vision (1976).
During her time at the University of Ottawa, Shields became a Canadian citizen, though she maintained a dual citizenship with the United States. In addition, Shields worked as an editorial assistant and editor for the journal Canadian Slavonic Papers (1973-1975) and spent a year in France (1975-1976). She began teaching part time at the University of Ottawa in 1976, eventually teaching both creative writing and English. She also taught at the University of British Columbia and the University of Manitoba. She was named chancellor of the University of Winnipeg in 1996. She and her husband retired to Victoria, British Columbia, in 2000.
Shields’s literary career began with the publication of Small Ceremonies (1976), which won the Canadian Authors’ Association Award for the best novel of the year. She began writing novels to depict the women that she rarely saw in fiction—clever, politically conscious women who loved their homes and families. Yet, for much of the 1970’s and early 1980’s, her work was not known outside Canada.
After the publication of Swann: A Mystery (1987), however, Shields’s audience widened to include both British and American readers. Shields’s most successful novel, The Stone Diaries (1993), was short-listed for Britain’s Booker Prize and won both the Governor-General’s Award and the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. Larry’s Party (1997) also maintained Shields’s status by winning the Orange Prize.
In 1998, Shields was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. After her diagnosis, Shields continued to write, publishing a collection of short stories as well as an award-winning biography of writer Jane Austen in 2001. Her last novel, Unless (2002), was short-listed for the Booker Prize.
Shields died from complications of breast cancer on July 16, 2003. Her collected short stories were published posthumously in 2004.
Carol Shields’s explorations of the struggles and frustrations of the ordinary man and woman reflect her notions about how personal history mirrors the larger history which surrounds it. Shields’s attention to her characters’ perseverance in spite of sometimes bleak situations makes them heroic in spite of their surface ordinariness. Furthermore, Shields’s playfully postmodern use of narrative structure and point of view allows her to present these modern, middle-class characters in more innovative and fully realized manifestations.
Carol Shields was born Carol Ann Warner in Oak Park, Illinois, on June 2, 1935, the third and youngest child of Robert Warner and Inez Warner (née Selgren). Her father supervised a candy company, and her mother...
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