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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,” Shields ('79) says from Charlottesville, Va.

“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.”