Illinois State Library

Illinois Center for the Book

Individual Author Record

General Information

Name:  Charles J. Shields  

Pen Name: None

Genre: Non-Fiction Other

Born: 1951 in Chester, Pennsylvania


Illinois Connection

Charles Shields was raised in Park Forest, Illinois, attended the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, where he received degrees in English and American history.

Biographical and Professional Information

Charles Shields is a biographer, primarily of 20th century American novelists. In 1997, Shields left a career in high school teaching and administration 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. Shields published his first biography for adults in 2006, and Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee went on to became a New York Times bestseller.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. As of July 2011, BIO has members in 43 American states and 10 nations, including Australia, India, Kenya, and the Netherlands.Shields currently resides in Virginia and is the associate director of the Great Lives Lecture Series at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia which brings prominent biographers and historians to campus.

Published Works Expand for more information

Titles At Your Library

Buffalo Bill Cody (Famous Figures of American Frontier)
ISBN: 0791064980

Chelsea House Pub. 2001

Examines the life and times of the frontiersman whose many careers included Pony Express rider, Indian fighter, scout, and star of his own Wild West show.

Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee
ISBN: 0805083197

Holt Paperbacks. 2007

"A fine, well-rounded portrait of Harper Lee. Mockingbird is good reading."—Star-Tribune (Minneapolis)

To Kill a Mockingbird—the twentieth century's most widely read American novel—has sold thirty million copies and still sells a million yearly. Yet despite her book's perennial popularity, its creator, Harper Lee, has become a somewhat mysterious figure. Now, after years of research, Charles J. Shields brings to life the warmhearted, high-spirited, and occasionally hardheaded woman who gave us two of American literature's most unforgettable characters—Atticus Finch and his daughter, Scout.

At the center of Shields's evocative, lively book is the story of Lee's struggle to create her famous novel, but her colorful life contains many highlights—her girlhood as a tomboy in overalls in tiny Monroeville, Alabama

the murder trial that made her beloved father's reputation and inspired her great work

her journey to Kansas as Truman Capote's ally and research assistant to help report the story of In Cold Blood. Mockingbird—unique, highly entertaining, filled with humor and heart—is a wide-ranging, idiosyncratic portrait of a writer, her dream, and the place and people whom she made immortal.

I Am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee
ISBN: 0805083340

Henry Holt and Co. (BYR). 2008

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most widely read novels in American literature. It's also a perennial favorite in highschool English classrooms across the nation. Yet onetime author Harper Lee is a mysterious figure who leads a very private life in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, refusing to give interviews or talk about the novel that made her a household name. Lee's life is as rich as her fiction, from her girlhood as a rebellious tomboy to her days at the University of Alabama and early years as a struggling writer in New York City.

Charles J. Shields is the author of the New York Times bestseller Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, which he has adapted here for younger readers.What emerges in this riveting portrait is the story of an unconventional, high-spirited woman who drew on her love of writing and her Southern home to create a book that continues to speak to new generations of readers. Anyone who has enjoyed To Kill a Mockingbird will appreciate this glimpse into the life of its fascinating author.

I Am Scout is a 2009 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life
ISBN: 0805086935

Henry Holt and Co.. 2011

A New York Times Notable Book for 2011

A Washington Post Notable Nonfiction Book for 2011

The first authoritative biography of Kurt Vonnegut Jr., a writer who changed the conversation of American literature.

In 2006, Charles Shields reached out to Kurt Vonnegut in a letter, asking for his endorsement for a planned biography. The first response was no ("A most respectful demurring by me for the excellent writer Charles J. Shields, who offered to be my biographer"). Unwilling to take no for an answer, propelled by a passion for his subject, and already deep into his research, Shields wrote again and this time, to his delight, the answer came back: "O.K." For the next year―a year that ended up being Vonnegut's last―Shields had access to Vonnegut and his letters.

And So It Goes is the culmination of five years of research and writing―the first-ever biography of the life of Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut resonates with readers of all generations from the baby boomers who grew up with him to high-school and college students who are discovering his work for the first time. Vonnegut's concise collection of personal essays, Man Without a Country, published in 2006, spent fifteen weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and has sold more than 300,000 copies to date. The twenty-first century has seen interest in and scholarship about Vonnegut's works grow even stronger, and this is the first book to examine in full the life of one of the most influential iconoclasts of his time.

Belize (Central America Today)
ISBN: 1422207110

Mason Crest. 2008

Discusses the history, topography, culture, and economy of Belize, which was called British Honduras until 1973.

Costa Rica (Central America Today)
ISBN: 1422207137

Mason Crest. 2008

Discusses the land, history, economy, culture, and people of this Central American country.

El Salvador (Central America Today)
ISBN: 1422207145

Mason Crest. 2008

Discusses the land, history, economy, culture, and people of this Central American country.

Guatemala (Central America Today)
ISBN: 1422207153

Mason Crest. 2008

Discusses the history, languages, foreign relations, economy, and culture of Guatemala.

Honduras (Central America Today)
ISBN: 1422207161

Mason Crest. 2008

Discusses the land, history, economy, culture, and people of this Central American country.

Nicaragua (Central America Today)
ISBN: 142220717X

Mason Crest. 2008

Discusses the land, history, economy, culture, and people of this Central American country.