LITERARY LOCATION: 990 Terrace Avenue, Victoria

Carol Shields lived at this address for the final three years of her life, 2000-2003, with her husband Donald Shields. By that time she was widely acknowledged as one of Canada's finest writers. As Alice Munro wrote, "You get a shiver when you come across a real writer and I had that with her."


It was a McGraw-Hill Ryerson editor named Julie Beddoes who picked out the manuscript for Small Ceremonies from the slush pile. After this first novel won the 1976 Canadian Authors Association Award for Fiction, Carol Shields went on to become one of Canada's most celebrated writers, creating a body of work that upended notions of the ordinary and revealed truths about women's lives, marriage, work, goodness and loss. Shields had already published two poetry collections before writing Small Ceremonies.

Carol Ann (Warner) Shields was born on June 2, 1935, the youngest of three children -twins had been born two years before her. She grew up in Oak Park, Illinois, a quiet suburb near Chicago. The daughter of a candy factory manager and a schoolteacher, she read a book a day.

After three years at Presbyterian Hanover College in Indiana, she attended the University of Exeter as an exchange student in 1955, and on a student trip to Aberfoyle, Scotland, met Donald Hugh Shields, a Canadian civil engineer. On one of their first dates, he took her to see the Pitlochry Dam. "He always made me laugh," she said. "I knew at once it would be all right."

The couple married two years later and Shields, 22, moved to Canada, becoming a naturalized Canadian in 1971. The young couple lived in Vancouver and Toronto. The first two of their five children were born in 1958 and 1959.

They lived in Manchester, England from 1960 to 1963, where Don Shields did post-doctoral studies. While there, Shields began reading the poetry of Philip Larkin and she sold several plays and her first short story to the British magazine The Storyteller. The couple's third child was born in Manchester. Back in Toronto, Shields continued to write poetry and won the CBC's Young Writers Competition in 1965. A fourth child was born in Toronto and a fifth completed the family in 1968 as the family transitioned to Ottawa.

Carol Shields' first book of poetry, Others (1972), was followed by Intersect (1974). At the University of Ottawa she received her M.A. in English in 1975 for her thesis on the Victorian settler writer Susanna Moodie. This speculative thesis was the genesis of her first novel, Small Ceremonies. From 1980 to 2000, the Shields lived in Winnipeg; these were among the most productive years of Shields' writing career.

Happenstance (1980) was followed by A Fairly Conventional Woman (1982). These provide the separate viewpoints of a husband and wife who are spending their first week apart after twenty years of marriage. The two novels were later published back to back in one volume as Happenstance: Her Story and His Story.

Swann (1987), is the story of four individuals who become enmeshed in the life and work of Mary Swann, a rural Canadian poet murdered by her husband. The Republic of Love (1992), presents Winnipeg as a quasi-magical city of romance.

Shields' best known work, The Stone Diaries (1993), which won the Pulitzer among other prizes, is about Daisy Goodwill, who Shields described as "a middle-class woman, a woman of moderate intelligence and medium-sized ego and average good luck" who is tragically unknown to herself and to others. This novel reflects Shields' own gradual appreciation of the women's movement. "I've been witness to this huge change for women in the second half of the 20th century," she said, having been awakened to feminism specifically by Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, a book that she says hit her "like a thunderbolt";.

"I came to feminism late," she once told National Public Radio's Terry Gross in the U.S. "I knew there was something wrong, I just didn't know what it was. I was astonished. I had no idea women thought like that or women could be anything other than what they were.... It did change the way that I thought about myself. I did begin to do a graduate degree part-time, thought about doing some writing. It gave me courage."

Another widely acclaimed novel, Larry's Party (1997), is a sympathetic portrayal of Daisy Goodwill's equivalent--an ordinary man. "Men are portrayed as buffoons these days," Shields said. "I was trying not to do that. But men are the ultimate mystery to me. I wanted to talk about this business of men in the world." Her protagonist designs garden mazes for a living. Larry's Party was awarded the Orange Prize and shortlisted for the Giller Prize.

Shields' final novel, Unless (2002) is the story of a teenager who leaves a loving home to beg on the streets of Toronto with a sign on her lap reading "Goodness."; It won B.C.'s Ethel Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, but Shields was unable to accept the prize due to illness. Memorably, her daughter Anne Giardini accepted on her behalf and connected the audience with her mother by cell phone.

Carol Shields had significant collaborations with Blanche Howard and Marjorie Anderson. She had met the writer Blanche Howard during their Ottawa years. They met up again through the Literary Storefront in Vancouver and co-wrote a novel, A Celibate Season (1990), about a married couple who are separated by British Columbia's recession - he remains in North Vancouver as a house-husband while she accepts work in Ottawa. Carol Shields and Winnipeg's Marjorie Anderson co-edited the first of three volumes of Dropped Threads (Vintage), collections of essays by women from all across Canada about topics that had been dropped from the general discourse.

"They say you write the same novel over and over," Shields once said, "and the idea of women being fully human has always been a preoccupation."

Carol Shields also worked as an editorial assistant and editor for the journal Canadian Slavonic Papers (1973-1975), taught English and Creative Writing at the University of Ottawa (1976-1978), taught Creative Writing at UBC (1978-1980) and taught at the University of Manitoba from 1980 onwards until she was named Chancellor of the University of Winnipeg in 1996.

Carol Shields received fifteen honourary doctorates. Her novels won the Arthur Ellis Award (1988), the Marian Engel Prize for a writer in mid-career (1990), the Governor-General's Literary Award (1993), and a National Book Critics Circle Award (1994). Her 1993 novel The Stone Diaries won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and a Booker Prize nomination, and was named a New York Times "Notable Book"; and a Publishers Weekly "Best Book"; for the year. In 2002, Shields received the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction for her Penguin Lives biography, Jane Austen, chosen from among 154 entries.

In 2000, Carol Shields and her husband moved to Victoria where she died at age 68 on July 16, 2003, of breast cancer.

Anne Giardini, who provided the opening essay for Carol Shields: The Arts of a Writing Life (Prairie Fire), described her mother's approach to death. "In recent months my mother's cancer has kept her increasingly close to home. Her illness has made her if anything even more in need of the information and ideas and promise of books. She has lived somewhat longer than her doctors predicted, no doubt assisted by the 'bibliotherapy' administered by her dearly loved friend Eleanor Wachtel, who has provided her with a stream of judiciously selected books that are more nourishing than chicken soup, and as sustaining as love.";

Carol Shields was survived by her husband and children, John (1958), Anne (1959), Catherine (1962), Meg (1964) and Sara (1968).

Don and Carol Shields also lived in Vancouver for two stints: at 20th and Cambie for four months in 1957, then on Churchill near 49th Avenue from 1978 to 1980. Of all her novels, possibly The Box Garden is most replete with Vancouver references, such as Woodwards, the Swiss Chalet, New Westminster, UBC's Natural Sciences and Fine Arts Buildings, the West Vancouver Consumer Action Group, West 19th Avenue, and Woolworth's.

"Reading is, by definition, a solitary act," she once noted, "and our society tends to look askance at those who pursue their pleasures in solitude. But 25 years from now I predict a rediscovery of the book as we know it. Suddenly people will be saying of books: how portable, how compact, how direct, how cost-effective, how intimate, how blessedly silent, how vivid, how enduring, how interactive, how revolutionary!"

A documentary film about Carol Shields aired on Access Network in 1985. She was briefly a writer-in-residence in Kingston in 1986, and briefly held the same position at the University of Winnipeg and at Douglas College, New Westminster in 1988. Room of One's Own devoted a special issue to honour her in 1989 and that year she was also briefly writer-in-residence at the University of Ottawa.

She spent a sabbatical year in Berkeley, California in 1994-1995. Prairie Fire devoted a special issue to Carol Shields in 1995. A musical version of her novel Larry's Party was directed by Richard Ouzounian and several other plays by Carol Shields have been produced. A somewhat cloying CBC Life & Times documentary was made shortly before she died.

Following the death of Carol Shields, Blanche Howard and Allison Howard edited A Memoir of Friendship: The Letters Between Carol Shields and Blanche Howard (Viking Canada, 2006), with a foreword by Anne Giardini. Allison Howard was the editor for the pair's co-written novel A Celibate Season when Howard was 22 years older than Shields. The letters range over a period from 1975 to 2003.

Two of Shields's daughters are also fiction writers. By 2015, Anne Giardini had published two novels and Sara Cassidy had published six books for children and short fiction and poetry. As well, Cassidy had become co-director of the Victoria Writers Festival and Giardini had become a second generation Chancellor at Simon Fraser University in 2014.

[Photo: Barbara Pedrick]


The Collected Stories of Carol Shields (Random House, 2004)
Unless (Random House, 2002)
Jane Austen (Penguin, 2001)
Dressing Up for the Carnival (Random House, 2000)
Larry's Party (Random House, 1997)
The Stone Diaries (Random House, 1993)
The Republic of Love (Random House, 1992)
Coming to Canada (Carleton University Press, 1992)
A Celibate Season (Coteau, 1991)- co-written with Blanche Howard
The Orange Fish (Random House, 1989)
Swann: A Mystery (Stoddar, 1987)
Various Miracles (Stoddart, 1985) - short stories
A Fairly Conventional Woman (Macmillan, 1982)
Happenstance (McGraw-Hill, 1980)
The Box Garden (McGraw-Hill, 1977)
Small Ceremonies (McGraw-Hill, 1976)
Intersect (Borealis, 1974) - poetry
Others (Borealis, 1972) - poetry


Dropped Threads: What We Aren't Told (Random House, 2001)
Dropped Threads 2: More of What We Aren't Told (Vintage, 2003)


Unless: The Play (CanStage, 2005)
Thirteen Hands and Other Plays (Vintage, 2002)
Departures and Arrivals (Blizzard, 1990, Vintage, 2002)
Fashion Power Guilt (Blizzard, 1995: Vintage, 2000) written with Catherine Shields
Not Another Anniversary (Blizzard Publishing, 1998), written with David Williamson
Women Waiting (CBC Radio Play, 1983)


Liminal Spaces: The Double Art of Carol Shields, (Cambridge College Publishing, 2008) by Alex Ramon
Carol Shields Issue (Prairie Fire, 1995), edited by Neil Besner and G.N.L.Jonasson
Carol Shields and the Extra-Ordinary (McGill-Queens University Press, 2007) edited by Dvorak and Jones
The Staircase Letters: An Extraordinary Friendship at the End of Life (Random House, 2008) by Arthur Motyer with Elma Derwin and Carol Shields.
A Memoir of Friendship: The Letters Between Carol Shields and Blanche Howard (Viking Canada, 2007 ).
Carol Shields: The Arts of a Writing Life (Prairie Fire, 2003) edited by Neil K. Besner
Carol Shields, Narrative Hunger, and the Possibilities of Fiction (University of Toronto Press, 2003) edited by Edward Eden, Dee Goertz.
The Worlds of Carol Shields (University of Ottawa Press, 2014), edited by David Stains


Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, for Unless, 2003
Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction, for Jane Austen, 2002
Guggenheim Fellowship, 1999
The Pulitzer Prize, for The Stone Diaries, 1995
The National Book Critics Circle Award, for The Stone Diaries, 1994
Canadian Booksellers' Association Prize, for The Stone Diaries, 1994
McNally Robinson Award for Manitoba Book of the Year, for The Stone Diaries, 1994
The Governor General's Literary Award, for The Stone Diaries, 1993
The Marian Engel Award, 1990
The Arthur Ellis Award for Best Canadian Mystery, 1988, for Swann
National Magazine Award, 1985, for the short story 'Mrs Turner Cutting the Grass'
First Prize, CBC Annual Literary Competition, for Women Waiting (a drama), 1983
Susanna Moodie: Voice and Vision, 1977
Canadian Authors Association Best Novel Award, for Small Ceremonies, 1976
Winner, CBC Young Writers Competition, for poetry, 1964


Honourary Doctorate, University of Manitoba, Malaspina University and College, 2003
Companion of the Order of Canada, 2002
Queen Elizabeth Golden Jubilee Medal, 2002
Carol Shields Creative Writing Award established by Red River College and Manitoba Writers Guild, 2002
Honourary Doctorates, Lakehead University, University of Victoria, University of Calgary, 2001
Order of Manitoba, 2001
Winnipeg Citizen of the Year, 2001
Bust of Carol Shields by Eva Stubbs mounted on plinth in Assiniboine Park, 2001
Chancellor Emerita, University of Winnipeg, 2000
Honourary Doctorates, Carleton University, Wilfrid Laurier University, 2000
Professor Emerita, University of Manitoba, 1999
Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award established, 1999
Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, 1998
Officer of the Order of Canada, 1998
Honourary Doctorates, University of Toronto, University of Western Ontario, Concordia University, 1998.
Honourary Doctorates, Hanover College, Queen's University, University of Winnipeg, University of British Columbia, 1996
Honourary Degree, University of Ottawa, 1995

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2015] "Fiction"