Writing prize named after Oak Park native

Carol Shields Prize for Fiction a new major award

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By Michelle Dybal

Contributing Reporter

There is a new major literary prize and it is named after a Pulitzer Prize-winning female author who grew up in Oak Park —The Carol Shields Prize for Fiction.

According to the prize website it "is the first English-language literary award to celebrate creativity and excellence in fiction by women writers in the United States and Canada. By putting the work of women writers in the spotlight — and by creating charitable grants and mentorships for marginalized and under-represented writers — this new annual literary award will acknowledge, celebrate and promote fiction by a wider, more diverse, and inclusive group of women writers."

The prize itself, which is also open to non-binary writers, comes with an award of $150,000 Canadian ($112,500 American), putting it on a different level than other significant literary prizes, such as the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction ($15,000) or The Booker Prize (£50,000). 

"A prize that recognizes outstanding work is a cause for celebration," said author Jane Hamilton, an Oak Park native. "And one that comes with cash is further cause for joy. Money can give a writer a boost she needs. It gives confidence. It can provide time and space, a room of one's own."

Hamilton's books have been made into movies, appeared in Oprah's book club and her novel," The Short History of a Prince," was shortlisted for the UK's Orange Prize, now the Women's Prize in Fiction. She is an Oak Park and River Forest High School class of 1975 alumna. 

Shields, then Warner, was born in 1935 and graduated from OPRF in 1953. After graduating from college in 1957, she married Don Shields in her parents' Oak Park home at 700 S. Kenilworth Ave. and then moved to Canada where they raised a family and she began writing. 

Shields was shortlisted for The Booker Prize twice, won the Pulitzer for Fiction in 1995 for The Stone Diaries, won the Orange Prize in 1998 for Larry's Party and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 2003 for her last novel, "Unless." She died of breast cancer that year. 

Hamilton also noted that she's thrilled that "Carol Shields will be kept in our collective mind's eye, a writer who should be celebrated in Oak Park and elsewhere just as Hemingway has been. She is Oak Park's jewel in the crown."   

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