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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

About Carol Shields

Globe and Mail
Tuesday, Jul. 25, 2003

Born in Oak Park, Illinois in 1935, Carol Shields moved to Canada at the age of twenty-two, after studying at the University of Exeter in England and the University of Ottawa. She started publishing poetry in her thirties, and is now the author of over twenty books, including plays, poetry, essays, short fiction, novels, a work of criticism on Susanna Moodie, and a biography of Jane Austen. Her work has been translated into twenty-two languages.

The Stone Diaries (1993), her fictional biography of an ordinary woman who drifts through the roles of child, wife, widow and mother, bewildered even in old age by her inability to understand her place in her own life, received overwhelmingly favourable reviews. The book won a Governor General's Literary Award and a Pulitzer Prize, and was also shortlisted for the Booker Prize, bringing the author an international following. Another novel, Swann, was made into a film, and two more screenplays based on Shields's books are in production. Larry's Party, published in several countries and recently adapted into a musical stage play, won England's Orange Prize, given to the best book by a woman writer in the English-speaking world. Shields says it was "a wonderful prize to get."

Shields's novels are shrewdly observed portrayals of everyday middle-class life. Reviewers have praised the author for exploring such universal problems as loneliness and lost opportunities. Shields, who has lived with illness for a number of years, speaks thankfully of her own fulfilling life; a former professor of English at the University of Manitoba and chancellor of the University of Winnipeg, she now lives in Victoria with her husband, a retired engineering professor, and is the mother of five grown children. Thanks to the success of The Stone Diaries, she was able to buy a summer home in France, nicknamed "Château Pulitzer" because the many literary awards she has received have dramatically increased sales of her work around the world.

Shields has spoken often of redeeming the lives of ordinary people by recording them in her works, "especially that group of women who came between the two great women's movements. . . . I think those women's lives were often thought of as worthless because they only kept house and played bridge. But I think they had value."

In an eloquent afterword to Dropped Threads, Shields says her own experience has taught her that life is not a mountain to be climbed, but more like a novel with a series of chapters. Carol Shields passed away in July 2003, at the age of 68.



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