Open main menu

For the American ice hockey defenseman, see David Shields (ice hockey)

David Shields
Born (1956-07-22) July 22, 1956 (age 63)
Los Angeles, California
EducationBA (English Literature), MFA (Fiction)
Alma materBrown University, University of Iowa
GenreEssay, novel, documentary

David Shields (1956) is an American author and film director.

Life and workEdit

David Shields, who was born in Los Angeles in 1956, graduated from Brown University in 1978 with a BA in English Literature, Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum laude. In 1980, he received a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) from the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop.[1]

From 1985 to 1988, he was a visiting assistant professor at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York. Shields has been Milliman Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the University of Washington since 2010. Since 1996, he has been a member of the faculty in the Warren Wilson College MFA Program for Writers in Asheville, NC.[2]

Shields's first novel, Heroes, was published by Simon & Schuster in 1984. His second novel, Dead Languages, about a boy who stutters so badly that he worships words, was published by Knopf in 1989. “A remarkable novel. A brilliant mixture of pitiless observation, excoriation, humor, love, and forgiveness.” (Towers, The New York Review of Books[3]) Handbook for Drowning: A Novel in Stories (Knopf, 1992) marked a stylistic shift from traditional, linear fiction toward more collage-like work. “Handbook for Drowning painfully, accurately chronicles the endemic disease of our time: the difficulty of feeling.” (Rhoda Koenig, New York Magazine) [4] This shift continued with Remote: Reflections on Life in the Shadow of Celebrity (Knopf, 1996), Black Planet: Facing Race during an NBA Season (Crown, 1999), Enough About You: Notes toward a New Autobiography (Simon & Schuster, 2002), and The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead (Knopf, 2008, New York Times bestseller). Shields's tenth book, Reality Hunger (2010), argued for the obliteration of distinctions between genres, the overturning of laws regarding appropriation, and the creation of new forms. Reality Hunger also criticized "conventional plot-driven fiction" [5] and argued that the novel itself is losing touch with reality. [6] Shields's How Literature Saved My Life was published by Knopf in 2013. The same year saw the release of Salinger, an oral biography he co-wrote with Shane Salerno, who wrote and directed the documentary of the same name. All of these books are examples of Shields's interest in "self-deconstructive nonfiction." [7]

Shields co-authored I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel (2015), which was adapted into a film by James Franco in 2017. Shields co-edited Life is Short—Art is Shorter (2015) and wrote That Thing You Do With Your Mouth: The Sexual Autobiography of Samantha Matthews, as told to David Shields (2015) and War Is Beautiful: The New York Times Pictorial Guide to the Glamour of Armed Conflict (2015). More recently, Shields has released Other People: Takes & Mistakes (2017), Nobody Hates Trump More than Trump: An Intervention (2018), and The Trouble With Men: Reflections on Sex, Love, Marriage, Porn, and Power (2019). [8]

Shields has four documentary films of his own: Fight of the Century, Blues on the Fourth of July, Burning Down the Louvre, and Lynch: A History, which premiered in June 2019 at the Seattle International Film Festival.[9]

Critical receptionEdit

Remote: Reflections on Life in the Shadow of Celebrity received the PEN/Revson Award. Black Planet: Facing Race During an NBA Season was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and PEN USA Award. It was also named one of 1999's ten best non-fiction books by Esquire, Newsday, LA Weekly, and Reality Hunger was named one of the best books of 2010 by more than thirty publications.[10]

Reality Hunger received a mixed critical response. In The New York Times Book Review, Luc Sante wrote that the book "urgently and succinctly addresses matters that have been in the air, have relentlessly gathered momentum, and have just been waiting for someone to link them together... [Shields's] book probably heralds what will be the dominant modes in years and decades to come."[11] In The New Yorker, James Wood criticized the book for being "imprecise", arguing that its favoring of "reality" over traditional fiction was "highly problematic." However, he said that Shields' arguments about the "tediousness and terminality of current fictional convention are well-taken."[12] Stephen Marche of The Los Angeles Review of Books reviewed Reality Hunger from a later perspective, saying, "Because of its premature birth, the critics who reviewed the book when it first came out largely missed the point" made by Shields "about how to write now, in 2017." [13] Shaj Mathew of The New Republic praised Shields's shift away from traditional narrative to a style that "is a pastiche, a series of intentionally “plagiarized” aphorisms, presented without quotation marks." [14] Newsweek stated that Shields "advocate[s] for some hybrid, a bricolage of true stuff and made-up stuff and thought and observation and rumination and conjecture." [15]

Adelle Waldman of The New Yorker highlighted Shields's shift away from fictional characters, saying, "the fact that characters are made up is problematic on both pragmatic and moral grounds." However, Waldman criticized his elimination of plot, saying that rather than plot being a distraction, "at its best narrative is the deeper drama: it takes in epiphanies and meditation." [16] In The Atlantic, Adam Kirsch praised Reality Hunger for "[encouraging] writers, and readers, to skip over the line between fiction and nonfiction with good conscience,"[17] and in his piece in The New York Times agreed with Shields's call for a self-conscious narrative style. [18] Leslie Jamison of The Atlantic called the book, "an anticonfessional notion of self-disclosure as a means of pursuing conceptual insight." [19]

In The Boston Globe, Eugenia Williamson wrote of How Literature Saved My Life, "In this wonderful, vastly entertaining book, he weaves together literary criticism, quotations, and his own fragmentary recollections to illustrate, in form and content, how art — real art, the kind that engages and reflects the world around it — has made his life meaningful as both creator and beholder."[20] In New Statesman, Max Liu found fault with Shields' artistic stance: "Shields' books yearn for meaning but they're as mediated by performance as the culture they criticize. Shields relishes his role as controversialist ('Fine by me') and his weakness is less writing to please admirers than to deflect detractors."[21]

Louis Bayard in The Washington Post called Salinger "the thorny, complicated portrait that its thorny, complicated subject deserves." In The Sunday Times (London), John Walsh wrote, "I predict with the utmost confidence that, after this, the world will not need another Salinger biography." Carl Rollyson disagreed in The Wall Street Journal, writing that "the raw material in 'Salinger' will need to be digested by yet another biographer. . . . We have waited so long to understand J. D. Salinger. We must wait longer."[22]

Saul Austerlitz of The Boston Globe applauded I Think You’re Totally Wrong as, “Outrageously entertaining . . . a warm, funny, and charming book that questions not only what it means to live for art but what it means to live.” [23]

Lawrence Weschler praised Shields's War is Beautiful, saying, “[it] is a powerful and important work of visual poetry: its polemical challenge draws the reader, the viewer, the citizen into its sometimes mysterious, often confounding, always disturbing sinuosities.” [24]

Clancy Martin in The New York Times said of Other People, “Shields goes on to develop a familiar thesis about human nature: that we are divided, vertiginous, self-deceiving beings who somehow, like good old Oedipus, can’t help using our strengths to destroy ourselves.” [25]

Hua Hsu in The New Yorker said of Lynch: A History, that "the film’s relentless rhythm overwhelms and overpowers you, as random acts of terror, across time and space, reveal themselves as a pattern. It’s a gradient of American carnage."[26]


  • The Trouble With Men: Reflections on Sex, Love, Marriage, Porn, and Power, Creek Books, 2019
  • Nobody Hates Trump More than Trump: An Intervention, Thought Catalog, 2018
  • Other People: Takes & Mistakes, Knopf, 2017
  • War is Beautiful: The New York Times Pictorial Guide to the Glamour of Armed Conflict, powerHouse Books, 2015
  • That Thing You Do With Your Mouth: The Sexual Autobiography of Samantha Matthews, as told to David Shields, McSweeney's, 2015
  • Life Is Short—Art Is Shorter: An Anthology of Very Brief Prose, written with Elizabeth Cooperman, Hawthorne Books, 2015
  • I Think You're Totally Wrong: A Quarrel, written with Caleb Powell, Knopf, 2015
  • Salinger, written with Shane Salerno, Simon & Schuster, 2013
  • How Literature Saved My Life, Knopf, 2013
  • Fakes, edited with Matthew Vollmer, W.W. Norton, 2012
  • The Inevitable: Contemporary Writers Confront Death, edited with Bradford Morrow, W.W. Norton, 2011
  • Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, Knopf, 2010
  • The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead, Knopf, 2008
  • Body Politic: The Great American Sports Machine, Simon & Schuster, 2004
  • Enough About You: Adventures in Autobiography, Simon & Schuster, 2002
  • "Baseball Is Just Baseball": The Understated Ichiro, TNI Books, 2001
  • Black Planet: Facing Race during an NBA Season, Crown, 1999
  • Remote: Reflections on Life in the Shadow of Celebrity, Knopf, 1996
  • Handbook for Drowning: A Novel in Stories, Knopf 1992
  • Dead Languages: A Novel, Knopf 1989
  • Heroes: A Novel, Simon & Schuster, 1984



Year Title Role
2018 Lynch: A History writer, director, producer
2018 Burning Down the Louvre writer, director, producer
TBD Blues on the Fourth of July co-writer
TBD Fight of the Century co-writer


  • Frye Art Museum/Artist Trust Consortium James W. Ray Distinguishes Artist Award, 2015
  • Goodreads Choice Awards, Best History/Biography, Salinger, 2013
  • Artist Trust Innovative Arts Award, 2013
  • &Now Awards: Best Innovative Writing, 2013
  • Best American Non-Required Reading, 2012
  • 4 Culture Award, 2008
  • John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship, 2005–2006
  • Finalist, National Book Critics Circle Award, for Black Planet, 2000
  • Finalist, PEN USA Award, for Black Planet, 2000
  • PEN/Revson Award, 1992
  • National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, 1991, 1982


  1. ^ "David Shields | Department of English | University of Washington". Retrieved 1 July 2016.
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ Sante, Luc (14 March 2010). "The Fiction of Memory". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 July 2016.
  12. ^ Wood, James (15 March 2010). "Keeping It Real". The New Yorker. Retrieved 1 July 2016.
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^ Williamson, Eugenia (2 February 2013). "Review of "How Literature Saved My Life" by David Shields - The Boston Globe". Boston Globe. Retrieved 1 July 2016.
  21. ^ Liu, Max (21 March 2013). "Reviewed: How Literature Saved My Life by David Shields". Retrieved 1 July 2016.
  22. ^ Rollyson, Carl (2 September 2013). "Book Review: 'Salinger' by David Shields and Shane Salerno". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 1 July 2016.
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^ Hsu, Hua (2019-06-14). "The Profound Silence of Marshawn Lynch". ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 2019-08-04.
  27. ^

External linksEdit