Carol Shields | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Carol Shields

Carol Shields, novelist, poet, playwright, biographer (born at Oak Park, Illinois 2 Jun 1935; died at Victoria, BC 16 Jul 2003). Shields was educated at Hanover College, Indiana, the University of Exeter England, and the University of Ottawa.

Carol Shields, novelist, poet, playwright, biographer (born at Oak Park, Illinois 2 Jun 1935; died at Victoria, BC 16 Jul 2003). Shields was educated at Hanover College, Indiana, the University of Exeter England, and the University of Ottawa. She moved to Canada in her early twenties when she married a Canadian, Donald Shields, with whom she later had five children. The award-winning Small Ceremonies (1976) was her first novel; its narrator, biographer Judith Gill (who, as Shields did for her master's degree, writes on Susanna Moodie), discovers how fiction and biography are more complementary than distinct forms. The intersections among fiction, biography and autobiography intrigued Shields throughout her career.

After moving to Winnipeg in 1980, Shields taught at the University of Manitoba (1982-2000) and served as Chancellor of the University of Winnipeg (1996-2000). Shields wrote the critical work Susanna Moodie: Voice and Vision (1975); several books of poetry, Others (1972), Intersect (1974) and Coming to Canada (1992); and a number of plays, including Departures and Arrivals (1990), Thirteen Hands (1993), and, with her daughter Catherine, Fashion Power Guilt and the Charity of Families (1995). She collaborated with Winnipeg writer Dave Williamson on the play Annivesary: A Comedy (1998). Carol Shields edited, with Marjorie Anderson, two Dropped Threads volumes (2001, 2003), best-selling anthologies in which women from a variety of walks of life discuss intimate, defining moments in their personal histories, articulating stories and emotions that are not as a rule publicly shared. Shields' writerly biography, Jane Austen (2001), which won the Charles Taylor prize for literary non-fiction, profiles a British author with whom Shields shared a sensitivity to the intricacies of domestic life and a wittily understated satirical voice.

Shields remains best known as a fiction writer; her work includes the short fiction collections Various Miracles (1985), The Orange Fish (1989), Dressing Up for the Carnival (2000), and 2004's posthumous The Collected Stories (which includes a chapter from her last, unfinished novel Segue); and the novels The Box Garden (1977), Happenstance (1980), A Fairly Conventional Woman (1982), Swann: A Mystery (1987, Arthur Ellis Award 1988; film adaptation 1996), The Republic of Love (1992, film adaptation 2003), A Celibate Season (1998, written with Blanche Howard), and the celebrated The Stone Diaries (1993), which won several prizes, among them the Governor General's Award (1993), the National Book Critics' Circle Prize (1994), and the Pulitzer Prize (1995). The Stone Diaries reflects richly on the significances, successes and failures of Daisy Goodwill's various attempts to render the story of her life. In 1997, Shields published the highly acclaimed novel Larry's Party, an exploration of the sensibility of an ordinary man in the last years of the millennium that traces the circuitous life path of Larry, a florist-turned-maze-designer. Larry's Party won the Orange Prize (1998), and Le Prix de Lire (France, 1998), was short-listed for the Giller Prize (1997), and was in 2001 adapted by Richard Ouzounian and composer Marek Norman as a musical play. In her final completed novel, Unless (2002), Shields ventures into heroine Reta Winters's life as a writer, and observes Reta's sense of grief and bewilderment at her daughter's apparently inexplicable decision to drop out of her middle-class life in order to panhandle on a Toronto street corner, bearing a cardboard sign that says, simply, "goodness."Unless was nominated for the Man/Booker Prize, the ScotiaBank/Giller Prize, the Governor General's Award, and the Commonwealth Writers Prize. Unless won the Ethel Wilson Prize for best British Columbia Fiction of the Year (2003).

In 2002, Shields was elevated from Officer to Companion of the Order of Canada in a ceremony in which the Honorable Iona Campagnolo paid tribute to Shields's compassionate ability to "create intimate worlds of great beauty and depth from seemingly ordinary events and ordinary people."

Carol Shields was awarded honourary doctorates by fourteen Canadian universities and her alma mater in the USA. Other honours include a Fellowship in the Royal Society of Canada (1998), being made a Knight in the Order of Arts and Letters of France (2000), and entering the Order of Manitoba (2001). A year later Shields received a Queen Elizabeth Golden Jubilee Medal (2002).

Shields spent the final three years of her life in Victoria, where she died at the age of 68, from complications due to breast cancer. The Carol Shields Memorial Labyrinth in Winnipeg and the Carol Shields Auditorium in the Winnipeg Central Library are proof of the high regard in which Shields came to be held in the city in which she wrote her best known work. Carol Shields won for herself a central role in Canadian and world literature.

Selected Works of
Carol Shields