A 20th-century American fiction writer, she is best known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Stone Diaries. Her other works include Larry's Party, Small Ceremonies, and Swann: A Mystery.
She graduated from both Hanover College (Indiana) and the University of Ottawa. Early in her career, she published poetry collections entitled Others (1972) and Intersect (1974).
She wrote several works for the stage, including Departures and Arrivals (1990) and Thirteen Hands (1993).
She married Donald Hugh Shields in 1957. Her daughter, Anne Giardini, also became a writer.
In 2001, she published a biography of Jane Austen.