Biographer of Mid-Century American Novelists

Charles J. Shields is an American writer of  literary biographies, histories, and young adult nonfiction books.

Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee

(Major revision in 2016 will include the mystery of Go Set a Watchman!)

Shields’s first biography for adults in 2006— Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee (Holt) went on to become a New York Times bestseller, and a perennial favorite of readers and teachers, now in its 10th printing.

9780618894642_childrenofhurinThis biography will not disappoint those who loved the novel and the feisty, independent, fiercely loyal Scout, in whom Harper Lee put so much of herself,” wrote Garrison Keillor in the New York Times Sunday Book Review.

In connection with the NEA’s “Big Read” initiative, Shields spoke to hundreds of audiences about his biography of Harper Lee for community-wide reads of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Unknown-2Two years later, Shields followed-up his biography of Lee with a
young adult version: I Am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee (Holt), which received awards from ALA Best Books for Young Adults; Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year; Arizona Grand Canyon Young Readers Master List.


And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut, A Life

------2 colscolorIn November 2011, Shields published the first biography of Kurt Vonnegut— And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut, A Life (Holt), described as an “incisive, gossipy page-turner of a biography,” by Janet Maslin and an “engrossing, definitive biography” by Publishers Weekly in a starred review.

It was selected as a New York Times Notable Book, and Washington Post Notable Nonfiction Book for 2011.

“An incisive, gossipy page-turner of a biography.” –Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“An engaging, surprising and empathetic page-turner”— Deirdre Donahue, USA Today

“The first truly exacting look into the life of a man who has fascinated so many.”— Esquire 

The Man Who Wrote the Perfect Novel

stoner-1Oscar van Gelderen of Lebowski Publisher (Dutch Media) will publish Shields’ biography of John Williams, author of Butcher’s Crossing, Stoner, and the National Book Award winning, Augustus (1973). This will be the first biography of Williams, whose popularity has been soaring in Europe. Sales of Williams’ books have landed all three of his novels on bestseller lists abroad. In addition, his works have gone into over 30 translations since 2011.





In 2009, with fellow biographers Nigel Hamilton, James McGrath Morris, and Pulitzer-prize winner Debby Applegate, Shields co-founded Biographers International Organization (BIO), a non-profit organization founded to promote the art and craft of biography. As of 2014, BIO has 350 members in 45 American states and 10 nations, including Australia, India, Kenya, and the Netherlands.

4 thoughts on “Biographer of Mid-Century American Novelists

  1. Quincy Whitney

    Hello Charles and Guadalupe!
    Happy New Year this 2016!–finally the year of my art-science-music biography American Luthier: Carleen Hutchins–the Art and Science of the Violin, to be released officially by University Press of New England in April, 2016–but advance copies will available to me in late March. Guadalupe, do you recall our conversation at BIO a few years back? Trying to get advice from you two about how to get a chance to present my book at the Virginia Festival of the Book. Do you have a contact or advice? I can send you more information but did not know if my email address for you was current.

  2. Stephen Kahn

    Dear Mr. Shields,

    I just finished reading AND SO IT GOES, and thoroughly loved it. I’ve been a science fiction reader since the age of 10. At 15, in high school near NY city (one of the six I attended because my father worked for the real life counterpart of “Dr. Strangelove” writing computer programs that would have launched the bombers to blow up Moscow in what was called MAD during the “Cold War”), I read PLAYER PIANO and was much confused and beguiled by it. For a couple of decades I read everything I could by Vonnegut, and then became very weary of him. I did wonder what the man was really like, and why h seemed so beguiling and irritating and confusing. I am now 71, and kind of completing “bucket list” types of tasks. When I came across your book I was immediately drawn to it in search of understanding the mystery of Vonnegut and my ambiguous fascination and then repulsion. I find you a fine writer, obviously willing to do the heavy lifting of writing a biography of a complex and varied life. As best I can tell, you are a fair and judicious person in your evaluation of Vonnegut’s life. I now feel that my perplexity about the man and my reaction to his work (most of which I had read) has been reasonably analyzed and that “hole in my bucket” has been patched about as well as it can be. Thank you.

    Stephen Kahn
    Whidbey Island, WA

  3. Carol Woodruff

    Dear Mr. Shields,
    I loved reading “Mockingbird…,” and fully appreciated the in-depth research you obviously conducted in putting the material together. I also admired the way you preserved Harper Lee’s dignity. She is clearly a very special and perceptive being.

    I also read “Go Set a Watchman,” and look forward to reading your revised biography, next year.

    Kind regards,
    Carol Woodruff
    Los Angeles


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