Charles J Shields

Charles J. Shields is an American biographer of mid-century American novelists and writers.

In 1997, Shields left his career in education to write independently. Over the course of the next six years, he published 20 histories and biographies for young people. In 2002, E.D. Hirsch (Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, 1988) invited Shields to join his Core Knowledge Foundation in Charlottesville, Virginia as senior editor, contributing to a curriculum which, adapted, became the Common Core Standards Initiative. Forty-one states, the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity have voluntarily adopted the Common Core.

Shields’s first biography for adults in 2006— Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee (Henry Holt & Co.) went on to become a New York Times bestseller and a Book-of-the-Month Club alternate. Two years later, Shields followed-up his biography of Lee with a young adult version: I Am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee (Holt), selected by the Junior Library Guild, and recommended among the American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults and Arizona Grand Canyon Young Readers Master List.

In 2009, with fellow biographers Nigel Hamilton, James McGrath Morris, and Debby Applegate, Shields co-founded Biographers International Organization (BIO), a non-profit organization founded to promote the art and craft of biography, and to further the professional interests of its practitioners. 

In November 2011, Henry Holt & Co. published Shields’ biography of Kurt Vonnegut, And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut, A Life (Holt), described by Steve Almond in the Boston Globe as a “disturbing account of the late author, whose ambition and talent transformed him from an obscure science fiction writer to a countercultural icon.” It was selected as a New York Times Notable Book, and Washington Post Notable Nonfiction Book for 2011.

In 2018, the University of Texas Press published The Man Who Wrote the Perfect Novel: John Williams, Stoner & the Writing Life. “Shields knows how to tell a good story,” said the Los Angeles Review of Books, “one that will appeal especially to those interested in the ins and outs of the publishing industry and the ups and downs of a writer’s life (spoiler alert: there are many).”

In January 2021, Henry Holt & Co. will release Shields’ Lorraine Hansberry: The Story Behind ‘A Raisin in the Sun’.

Shields is the father of Andrew (1983-2012), and Lauren Shields, author of The Beauty Suit: How My Year of Religious Modesty Made Me a Better Feminist (Beacon Press, 2018).