Open main menu

Charles J. Shields

photograph by Michael Bailey

Charles J. Shields (born December 2, 1951) is an American biographer, primarily of 20th-century American novelists.

Raised in a Chicago suburb, Shields attended the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, graduating with degrees in English and American history in 1979. Shields is currently married and has two children.



In 1997, Shields left his career as a high school teacher and administrator to write independently. Over the course of the next six years, he published 20 histories and biographies for young people, including a biography of writer Amy Tan, selected by the New York Public Library as one of the “Best Books for the Teen Age” in 2003. School Library Journal wrote, “This fine biography of a second-generation American should be read by all immigrant teens and children of immigrants as they sort out how to cope with their parents and come to an understanding of their own bicultural heritage.”[1] Shields's biography of Martha Stewart for adolescents was reviewed in The Atlantic by Caitlin Flanagan, who remarked that it was superior to another biography of Ms. Stewart written for adults.[2]

Shields's first biography for adults in 2006— Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee (Holt)[3] went on to become a New York Times bestseller. “This 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.[4] “As readable, convincing, and engrossing as Lee’s literary wonder,” said the Orlando Sentinel.[5]

In connection with the National Endowment for the Arts' "Big Read" initiative, Shields spoke to hundreds of audiences about his biography of Harper Lee for community-wide reads of To Kill a Mockingbird.[6] Several versions of his talks are archived on the Internet.[7]

Two 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 American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults; Bank Street Best Children's Book of the Year; Arizona Grand Canyon Young Readers Master List.[8]

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, and to further the professional interests of its practitioners. As of 2013, BIO has 350 members in 45 American states and 10 nations, including Australia, India, Kenya, and the Netherlands.

In November 2011, Shields published the first biography of Kurt Vonnegut, And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut, A Life (Holt),[9] described as an "incisive, gossipy page-turner of a biography," by Janet Maslin[10] and an "engrossing, definitive biography" by Publishers Weekly in a starred review.[11] It was selected as a New York Times Notable Book,[12] and Washington Post Notable Nonfiction Book for 2011.[13]

Currently, Shields is serving as a judge for the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography to be presented in October 2013.


School, Library, and Young Adult Books

  • The 1993 World Trade Center Bombing, (Chelsea House, 2001)
  • William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, (Chelsea House, 2001)
  • Annie Oakley, (Chelsea House, 2001)
  • John Cabot, (Chelsea House, 2001)
  • Captain James Cook, (Chelsea House, 2001)
  • Mohandas K. Gandhi, (Chelsea House, 2001
  • Martha Stewart: Woman of Achievement, (Chelsea House, 2002)
  • The Great Fire and Plague of London, (Chelsea House, 2002)
  • Amy Tan: Woman of Achievement, (Chelsea House, 2002)
  • J.K Rowling: Who Wrote That? (Chelsea House, 2002)
  • Roald Dahl: Who Wrote That? (Chelsea House, 2002)
  • George Lucas: Behind the Camera, (Chelsea House, 2002)
  • Spike Lee: Behind the Camera, (Chelsea House, 2002)
  • Belize, (Mason Crest, 2002)
  • Costa Rica, (Mason Crest, 2002)
  • El Salvador, (Mason Crest, 2002)
  • Guatemala, (Mason Crest, 2002)
  • Honduras, (Mason Crest, 2002)
  • Nicaragua, (Mason Crest, 2002)
  • Panama, (Mason Crest, 2002)
  • Vladimir Putin, (Chelsea House, 2003)
  • Saddam Hussein, (Chelsea House, 2003)
  • Argentina, (Mason Crest, 2003)
  • Brazil, (Mason Crest, 2003)
  • Chile, (Mason Crest, 2003)
  • Peru, (Mason Crest, 2003)
  • Uruguay, (Mason Crest, 2003)
  • Venezuela, (Mason Crest, 2003)
  • I Am Scout: the Biography of Harper Lee, (Henry Holt & Co., 2008)

Trade Books

  • Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, (Henry Holt & Co., 2006)
  • And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut, A Life, (Henry Holt & Co., 2011)


  1. ^
  2. ^ Caitlin Flanagan, “Home Alone,” Atlantic Monthly, September 2002.
  3. ^ Brians, Paul. "Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee: Charles J. Shields: Books". Retrieved October 28, 2011. 
  4. ^ “Good Scout,” New York Times, June 11, 2006.
  5. ^ Ann Hellmuth, “Walking in Harper Lee’s Shoes,” Orlando Sentinel, June 11, 2006.
  6. ^ //
  7. ^ "To Kill a Mockingbird Radio Show - Listen!". Archived from the original on April 17, 2009. Retrieved June 20, 2013. 
  8. ^ Charles J. Shields (April 12, 2009). "I Am Scout". Macmillan. Archived from the original on November 14, 2011. Retrieved October 28, 2011. 
  9. ^ Charles J. Shields (September 9, 2009). "And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life". ISBN 9780805086935. Archived from the original on April 9, 2014. Retrieved April 10, 2014. 
  10. ^ Janet Maslin (November 2, 2011). "Charles J. Shields's 'And So It Goes' on Vonnegut". The New York Times. Archived from the original on March 3, 2007. 
  11. ^ "And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut, a Life". 
  12. ^ "100 Notable Books of 2011". November 21, 2011. Archived from the original on November 23, 2011. 
  13. ^ "Notable nonfiction of 2011". The Washington Post. December 9, 2011. Archived from the original on December 9, 2012. 

External linksEdit