Carol Shields was born Carol Warner in Oak Park, Illinois in 1935. Her lifelong love of reading began at an early age, and she began writing for enjoyment in school. When she attended Oak Park Public High School, she concentrated on the subjects of history and English. It was also in high school that Shields started to write poetry.
After her graduating from high school in 1953, Shields attended Hanover College in Hanover, Indiana. While there, she received a United Nations Scholarship to study abroad and studied English Literature at Exter University. She graduated magna cum laude from Hanover College in history and education.
Carol married Donald Shields in Oak Park in 1957. Soon after they moved to Canada, where they would live and raise their family in several different cities. In 1962 Shields sold her first short story to a British magazine called The Storyteller. In the same year the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) bought another short story from her called For Business Reasons. From the mid-1960s Shields wrote poems, which were later collected in books such as: Others (1972), Intersect (1974), and Coming to Canada (1992).
Shields became a Canadian citizen in 1971 and in 1975 she received a Masters of Arts degree from the University of Ottawa. During that time, she worked as an editorial assistant for the scholarly journal Canadian Slavonic Papers.
Shields published her first novel, Small Ceremonies, in 1976. The book was critically acclaimed,
wining the Canadian Authors Association Award. Shields continued to write novels that depicted ordinary lives, while also presenting complex, subtle subjects in a light and comic tone. Her works in this vein include: The Box Garden (1977), Happenstance (1980), A Fairly Conventional Woman (1982), Swann: A Mystery (1987), A Celibate Season (1990; written with novelist Blanche Howard), The Republic of Love (1992), The Stone Diaries (1993), Larry’s Party (1997), and Unless (2002).
In addition to poetry and book length fiction, Shields also wrote a biography of Jane Austen; plays such as Woman Waiting (1983), Departures and Arrivals (1984), and Thirteen Hands (1993); and an assortment of short stories which were collected in the books Various Miracles (1985) and The Orange Fish (1989). Shields was also a faculty member of the English Department at the University of Manitoba from 1982-2000.
Her works have won various prizes throughout Canada, the United States, and the rest of the world. In particular, The Stone Diaries won both the US National Book Critics Award (1994) and Pulitzer Prize (1995). In 1998 she was made an Officer of the Order of Canada, and later received the country’s highest honor as a Companion of the Order of Canada in 2002. She was also the recipient of many honorary degrees, most notably from her alma mater, Hanover College, in 1996.
In 1998 Shields was diagnosed with breast cancer. She died of the disease in July 2003.