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September/October 2003
Vol. 35, no. 5
ISSN 1492-4676

Contents Next Article

Carol Shields Memorial Reading

Trevor Clayton, Communications

On July 24, 2003, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) hosted a memorial reading of the works of Canadian author and Pulitzer Prize-winner Carol Shields, who died of cancer on July 16, at the age of 68.

The tribute drew more than 150 people, including Shields’s long-time friend Molly Walsh, to listen and reflect on one of Canada’s most gifted writers. A framed picture of the author and covers of several of her works were placed prominently in and around the LAC’s sunken lobby, and a selection from the Shields fonds, which the writer generously deposited with the LAC, were exhibited in display cases.

Randall Ware of the LAC communications branch acted as MC and introduced each reader, beginning with National Librarian and Shields contemporary Roch Carrier.

Dr. Carrier praised the late author’s subtly affecting prose prior to reading from Shields’s final novel, Unless (2002). This work was nominated for the Booker Prize, the Giller Prize, the Governor General’s Literary Award and the Commonwealth Writers Prize, and is on Britain’s list of the ten best-loved books written by women.

Writer Susan Lightstone next took the podium and read the afterword from Shields’s national bestseller Dropped Threads (2001), a collection of intimate stories by women co-edited by Shields and Marjorie Anderson and released in two anthologies. Lightstone lent insight on what she saw as the "dark underside of situations that can be easily overlooked or dismissed" in Shields’s writing.

Charles Gordon and Jenny Jackson, both of the Ottawa Citizen, read passages from Happenstance (1980) and The Republic of Love (1992); University of Ottawa professor Gerald Lynch read from Swann (1987) and novelist Elizabeth Hay read from Shields’s biography of Jane Austen (2001), which garnered the $25,000 Charles Taylor Prize for non-fiction in April 2002.

Perhaps the most satisfying speaker at the memorial was Carol Shields herself, whose 1998 National Library speech, entitled "The Subjunctive Self," was recovered from the sound archives and played over the sound system while the familiar podium she once stood at remained vacant. There was laughter and riveted silence as the late author’s remarkable humour and literary prowess posed the same invitation to greater self-awareness as the original address had done years earlier.

Born in Illinois in 1935, Shields studied at Hanover College and the University of Exeter in England before completing an MA at the University of Ottawa. She married Donald Hugh Shields at age 22 and took up permanent residence in Canada, where she taught as a professor at the University of Ottawa, the University of British Columbia and the University of Manitoba. Her final years were spent in Victoria, British Columbia.

Shields’s most famous work remains 1993’s The Stone Diaries, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction, and which was nominated for the Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Larry’s Party (1997) won the UK’s Orange Prize for Fiction.

Other awards and recognition for Carol Shields include the Canadian Authors Association Award, the Arthur Ellis Award, the National Critics Circle Prize, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She was nominated for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (the world's richest literary prize for a single work of fiction), short-listed for the Booker Prize twice and was a Companion to the Order of Canada, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and a member of the Order of Manitoba.

Ms. Shields is survived by her husband, their five children and eleven grandchildren.