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Charles Shields

Charles Shields

Literary biographer, playwright | New York Times best-seller | Class of 1979

In the end, by all accounts, best-selling biographer Charles Shields did all right for himself as a writer.

Just don’t ask him to pen a poem.

Too painful a memory.

“The professor who altered the course of my life was the one who told me ‘no’ — poet Laurence Lieberman,” says Shields, who earned his bachelor’s in English (1974) and master’s in American history (1979) while reviewing movies for The Daily Illini and teaching at Armstrong High on the side. 

“Professor Lieberman’s class, or perhaps it was a seminar, was about writing poetry. To enroll, students had to submit examples of their work; he would review them; and decide whether to allow the person to enroll.

“I was 18 when he handed back my poems in his office and denied me permission. I wasn’t accustomed to a response like that to my writing, and I never seriously attempted to write poetry again. I lacked the confidence to try.

“What I didn’t realize is that you don’t need a Ph.D. to write poetry; a broken heart will do.”

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