An Appreciation - Carol Shields

Brenda Barrie
dedicated An Unorthodox Romance
"to the late Carol Shields
my model in so many ways . . .
friend, mentor, author,
and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for
The Stone Diaries"

The following is an excerpt from An Unorthodox Romance:

It was before I was a writer. Before I knew I was a writer, even though so many people have pointed out that my first job at eighteen was as a copywriter, and then as a journalist, feature writer, etc.

But that was not being a writer. That was just something I was able to do. It’s a good thing I could do that one thing, because I wasn't a good enough typist for office work and numbers flummoxed me completely.
One day in the early 1980s I met Carol Shields, a ‘real’ writer. I was the chair of a national Canadian Arts Committee for Women and she was a member of the committee. She was deferring to me. I sensed something not quite right in the deference of this polite, quiet woman. Someone else on the committee told me Carol was a real author. Novels and poetry. She was deferring to me? There was definitely something wrong with that picture.
I went to the library and looked her up. (No Internet then.) She had written several novels. I read them all. Loved them: settings, language, tone, everything about them.

A few weeks later, there was Carol again, in the same book club I belonged to. We managed to make some members really angry. The club had originally been a very political feminist group. (We all remember the hotheaded 70s, right?)

Everyone hated the book we were reading. It was historical, and maybe a little literary, The Greenlanders by Jane Smiley. Everyone hated it except for Carol and me. The other members – as politically knowledgeable and active a group as you'll ever meet – were disgusted, claiming the two of us were turning the group into a literary club. Not a compliment in their minds, believe me. (Personally, I was never so flattered in my life.) And later when we drove home, Carol and I giggled about it. Also, it turned out we were near neighbors.

If you met Carol in her later roles as a major literary prize winner, Chancellor of the University of Winnipeg, Pulitzer Prize winner, knowledgeable author being interviewed on the CBC, respected professor, you wouldn't think you could giggle with her. But you could.

Carols was amazing. She was all those things I've just mentioned, plus a loving wife, the mother of five, (one, a novelist, Anne, has written a blurb for me on this book, for which I thank her) and so much more.

One thing led to another. We became friends. Carol got some of my first poems published in a Canadian literary magazine, Prairie Fire. She asked me for information in my professional capacity that she needed for her Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel The Stone Diaries. She agreed to be my outside reader for my first manuscript, the thesis for my M.A, which later my first novel, The Binding. In that capacity, as a member of the committee for my orals, she greatly confused my university in St Paul, MN, by being the ‘real’ Carol Shields.

Then we lost Carol to breast cancer. She had by then completed Larry’s Party, later a musical too, and Unless, which, when completed, she told me, “I'm so happy I could go out and offer to take in other people’s laundry.”

She would have done a good job too.

Thank you, Carol, for playing such a major part in my life, so gracefully, seemingly so effortless. And thanks to the Shields family for allowing me to do this, honoring Carol.

Learn more about Carol Shields through the website of her literary trust

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