Shields, Carol


Shields, Carol
▪ 1996

      Novelist Carol Shields fashioned the type of fiction she had wanted to read but could not find: stories about women's friendships and their inner moral and intellectual lives. In 1995 The Stone Diaries (1993) was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction after having won the 1993 Canadian Governor General's Literary Award and the 1994 National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. The novel, a portrait of an ordinary woman whose life spanned most of the 20th century, was written in a semiautobiographical style and contained quotations from letters, newspapers, and characters in the novel—it even had a section of photographs.

      The way people appeared and related to one another was the theme throughout Shields's fiction and poetry. Two collections of her poetry, Others (1972) and Intersect (1974), concerned relationships and distances between people. Her first two novels, Small Ceremonies (1976) and The Box Garden (1977), were about two women who were the third generation of twins. A Celibate Season (1991), coauthored with Blanche Howard, told the story of a modern marriage in which the characters were separated by their work. In The Republic of Love (1992), Shields told a love story set amid the details of ordinary life. She specialized in depicting the careful, contented lives of the middle class and was an expert at evoking the feelings and concerns of ordinary people.

      Shields believed that telling a story from a single perspective was too limiting. In the novels Happenstance (1980) and A Fairly Conventional Woman (1982), she examined the marriage of a middle-aged couple living in a small U.S. city. In these novels she developed the plot through overlapping narratives of the husband and the wife. In Swann: A Mystery (1987), four characters explore their individual interpretations of the life and work of a murdered poet.

      She was born Carol Warner in Oak Park, Ill., on June 2, 1935. She received a B.A. in English from Hanover College, Hanover, Ind., in 1957, the same year she married and moved to Canada. After taking a course in creative writing at the University of Toronto, Shields won (1965) a young writers contest sponsored by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and received (1975) an M.A. in English literature from the University of Ottawa. In 1977 she published her thesis on Susanna Moodie, a 19th-century pioneer in Ontario, and after moving to Winnipeg taught English at the University of Manitoba.

      Shields's first novel, Small Ceremonies, won the Canadian Authors Association Award for fiction. For Swann: A Mystery, she received the Arthur Ellis Award for crime writing. Shields won the Marian Engel Award, given to a Canadian woman writer for her body of work. In spite of these awards, Shields's work was often underrated by critics because of the domestic setting of her stories. With The Stone Diaries, the literary world gained new appreciation for Shields's well-crafted, quiet books. (DIANE LOIS WAY)

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▪ American author
née  Carol Warner  
born June 2, 1935, Oak Park, Illinois, U.S.
died July 16, 2003, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

      American-born Canadian author whose work explores the lives of ordinary people. Her masterpiece, The Stone Diaries (1993), won a Pulitzer Prize in 1995.

      Shields grew up in the United States and in 1957 graduated from Hanover College in Indiana. That same year she married and moved to Canada. After taking a course in creative writing at the University of Toronto, she won a young writers contest sponsored by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 1965. In 1975 she received an M.A. in English literature from the University of Ottawa and two years later published her thesis, a critical biography of Susanna Moodie (Moodie, Susanna Strickland), a 19th-century pioneer in Ottawa. After moving to Winnipeg, Shields taught English at the University of Manitoba and from 1996 to 2000 was the school's chancellor.

      Domestic life—the way everyday people appear and how they relate to one another—is a persistent theme in Shields's fiction and poetry. She depicts the careful, contented lives of the middle class, expertly evoking their feelings and concerns. Her first two novels, Small Ceremonies (1976) and The Box Garden (1977), are interconnected, concerning the choices made by two sisters. In Happenstance (1980) and A Fairly Conventional Woman (1982), Shields used overlapping narratives to escape the strictures of straightforward narrative told from a single perspective. Marketed in Canada as a crime drama, Swann: A Mystery (1987) is both a sly comedy of manners and a psychological novel that presents the life of a dead female poet as conceived by four very different characters. The Republic of Love (1992) brings two somewhat unlikely individuals together. Written in a pseudo-biographical manner, The Stone Diaries (1993) is a portrait of an ordinary woman whose life spans most of the 20th century. The novel contains quotations from letters and newspapers as well as a section of photographs. In addition to winning a Pulitzer, The Stone Diaries received the Canadian Governor General's Literary Award (1993) and the National Book Critics Circle Award (1994). Shields also wrote a number of other works, including short story collections (such as The Orange Fish, 1989, and Dressing Up for the Carnival, 2000), three volumes of poetry, the novels Larry's Party (1997) and Unless (2002), and a biography of Jane Austen (2001).

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Universalium. 2010.

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