Facts & Fiction

A conversation with Carol Shields, the best-selling novelist and the author of The Atlantic's January short story.

The Atlantic's January short story
January 14, 1999

shielpic picture

  Carol Shields

"When we say a thing or an event is real, never mind how suspect it sounds, we honor it," Carol Shields writes in her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, (1995). "But when a thing is made up -- regardless of how true and just it seems -- we turn up our noses." By creating characters that her readers can identify with, however, Shields has managed to make her fictions appealingly true to life. Such verisimilitude has made for a loyal readership -- The Stone Diaries, with more than 700,000 copies in print, spent thirty-nine weeks on The New York Times paperback-bestseller list. Shields's most recent novel, the winner of the 1998 Orange Prize for Fiction, examines the fictional life of Larry Weller, a professional maze-maker navigating the twists and turns of his own existence; since the novel's publication, Shields says, there are suddenly more men at her readings, claiming to have seen themselves reflected in the book.

To the American public, Shields is perhaps best known as a novelist and writer of short fiction (her story, "The Next Best Kiss," appears in the January Atlantic), but to her fellow Canadians she also has a reputation as a playwright, a poet, a critic, and a teacher. Her plays include Departures and Arrivals (1988) and Thirteen Hands (1993); her poetry collections include Others (1972) and Intersect (1974); and her numerous novels and short-story collections include The Republic of Love (1992), The Orange Fish (1989), The Box Garden (1977), and Small Ceremonies (1976). She has garnered copious literary prizes during her career. A native of Oak Park, Illinois, Shields moved to Canada forty years ago, studying and then teaching at the University of Ottawa, the University of British Columbia, and the University of Manitoba. In 1996 Shields was named Chancellor of the University of Winnipeg. The mother of five grown children, she currently lives with her husband in Manitoba.

Shields spoke recently with Atlantic Unbound's Katie Bolick.

Presented by

Kate Bolick is a writer in New York.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus


How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.


Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.


The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.


Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.


Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses


Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Entertainment

Just In