Lionel Shriver

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Lionel Shriver
Shriver in Cannes, 2011
Shriver in Cannes, 2011
BornMargaret Ann Shriver
(1957-05-18) May 18, 1957 (age 64)
Gastonia, North Carolina, US
OccupationJournalist, novelist
Alma materBarnard College
Columbia University
Notable worksWe Need to Talk About Kevin
SpouseJeff Williams

Lionel Shriver (born Margaret Ann Shriver; May 18, 1957) is an American author and journalist who lives in the United Kingdom. Her novel We Need to Talk About Kevin won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2005.

Early life and education[edit]

Shriver was born Margaret Ann Shriver on May 18, 1957, in Gastonia, North Carolina, to a deeply religious family. Her father, Donald, is a Presbyterian minister, who became an academic and president of the Union Theological Seminary in New York;[1] her mother, Peggy, was a homemaker. She also has an older brother, Gregory, and a younger brother, Tim.[2] At age 15, she changed her name from Margaret Ann to Lionel because she did not like the name she had been given, and as a tomboy felt a conventionally male name more appropriate.[3]

Shriver was educated at Barnard College, Columbia University (BA, MFA).[4] She has lived in Nairobi, Bangkok and Belfast, and currently lives in London. She has taught metalsmithing at Buck's Rock Performing and Creative Arts Camp in New Milford, Connecticut.[5]



Shriver had written eight novels and published seven (one novel could not find a publisher) before writing We Need to Talk About Kevin, which she called her "make or break" novel due to the years of "professional disappointment" and "virtual obscurity" preceding it.

In an interview with Bomb magazine, Shriver listed her novels' subject matter up to the publication of We Need to Talk About Kevin as "anthropology and first love, rock-and-roll drumming and immigration, the Northern Irish Troubles, demography and epidemiology, inheritance, tennis and spousal competition, [and] terrorism and cults of personality". Rather than writing traditionally sympathetic characters, Shriver prefers to create characters who are "hard to love."[6]

We Need to Talk About Kevin was awarded the 2005 Orange Prize.[7] The novel is a study of maternal ambivalence, and the role it might have played in the title character's decision to murder nine people at his high school. It provoked much controversy and achieved success through word of mouth.[8] She said this about We Need To Talk About Kevin becoming a success:

I'm often asked did something happen around the time I wrote Kevin. Did I have some revelation or transforming event? The truth is that Kevin is of a piece with my other work. There's nothing special about Kevin. The other books are good too. It just tripped over an issue that was just ripe for exploration and by some miracle found its audience.[9]

The novel was adapted into the 2011 film of the same name, starring Tilda Swinton[10]

In 2009, she donated the short story "Long Time, No See" to Oxfam's "Ox-Tales" project, four collections of UK stories written by 38 authors. Her story was published in the Fire collection.[11]

Shriver's book So Much for That was published on March 2, 2010.[12] In the novel, Shriver presents a biting criticism of the US health care system. It was named as a finalist for the National Book Award in fiction.[13] Her work The New Republic was published in 2012. It was written in 1998, but failed to find a publisher at the time.[14]

Her 2013 book, Big Brother: A Novel, was inspired by the morbid obesity of one of her brothers.[15]

The Mandibles: A Family, 2029–2047, published in May 2016, is set in a near-future in which the United States is unable to repay its national debt and Mexico has built a wall on its northern border to keep out US citizens trying to escape with their savings.[16] Members of the moneyed Mandible family must contend with disappointment and struggle to survive after the inheritance they had been counting on turns out to have turned to ash. A sister bemoans a shortage of olive oil, while another has to absorb strays into her increasingly cramped household. Her oddball teenage son Willing, an economics autodidact, looks as if he can save the once august family from the streets.[17] The novel was "not science fiction", Shriver told BBC Radio 4's Front Row on May 9, 2016. It is an "acid satire" in which "everything bad that could happen ... has happened" according to the review in the Literary Review.[18]


Shriver has written for The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, The New York Times, The Economist, Harper's, contributed to the Radio Ulster program Talkback[19] and other publications.[20] In July 2005, Shriver began writing a column for The Guardian,[21] in which she shared her opinions on maternal disposition within Western society, the pettiness of British government authorities, and the importance of libraries (she plans to will whatever assets remain at her death to the Belfast Library Board, out of whose libraries she checked many books when she lived in Northern Ireland).[9][22] She currently writes regularly for The Spectator.[2]


She criticised the American health system in an interview in May 2010 while at the Sydney Writers' Festival in Australia, in which she said she was "exasperated with the way that medical matters were run in my country" and considers that she is taking "my life in my hands. Most of all I take my bank account in my hands because if I take a wrong turn on my bike and get run over by a taxi, I could lose everything I have."[23][24] She is a patron of UK population growth rate concern group Population Matters.[25]

In an interview on Newsnight on BBC Two the night of 17 December 2012, she was questioned about the issue of whether the United States should change gun control laws after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and she said the opponents of gun control feel that it is a way for the individual to counterbalance the power of the state, which she thinks is a "fantasy" and an "absurdity".[26]

As the 2016 keynote speaker at the Brisbane Writers' Festival, Shriver gave a controversial speech about cultural appropriation.[27] Shriver had previously been criticized for her depiction of Latino and African-American characters in her book The Mandibles, which was described by one critic as racist and by another as politically misguided.[28][29] In her Brisbane speech, Shriver contested these criticisms, saying writers ought to be entitled to write from any perspective, race, gender or background that they choose.[30] The full text of her speech was published in the British newspaper The Guardian.[31]

In June 2018, she criticised an effort by the publisher Penguin Random House to diversify the authors that it published and better represent the population, saying that it prioritised diversity over quality and that a manuscript "written by a gay transgender Caribbean who dropped out of school at seven" would be published "whether or not said manuscript is an incoherent, tedious, meandering and insensible pile of mixed-paper recycling". Penguin Random House marketer and author Candice Carty-Williams criticised the statements.[32] As a result of her comments Shriver was dropped from judging a competition for the magazine Mslexia.[33]

Personal life[edit]

She is married to jazz drummer Jeff Williams with whom she lives in Bermondsey, London.[2] On June 7, 2016, Shriver appeared on the BBC Radio 4 programme My Teenage Diary, during which she read extracts from her journals from the late 1960s and early '70s and discussed her upbringing and adolescence.[34][35][36] Shriver was in favour of the UK exiting from the European Union.[2]



Short fiction[edit]

  • "Kilifi Creek". The New Yorker. 89 (38): 110–117. November 25, 2013. Retrieved 2017-11-13, short story
  • Property – Stories Between Two Novellas, 2018 collection[37]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d Levy, Ariel. "Lionel Shriver Is Looking for Trouble". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2020-06-28.
  3. ^ Lionel Shriver, profile at Q&A website.
  4. ^ Barber, Lynn (April 22, 2007). "We need to talk ..." The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved January 31, 2017.
  5. ^ Shriver, Lionel (January 30, 2010), "So Much for That" (essay), Powell's Books.
  6. ^ Shute, Jenefer. "Lionel Shriver" Archived October 9, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. Bomb magazine, Fall 2005. July 26, 2011.
  7. ^ Orange Prize citation Archived February 22, 2014, at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ "Honesty is key for Orange winner". BBC. June 7, 2005. Retrieved December 8, 2006.
  9. ^ a b Brady, Tara, "Talking about Kevin", The Irish Times, October 21, 2011.
  10. ^ "Tilda Swinton: 'I didn't speak for five years'". the Guardian. 2011-10-11. Retrieved 2020-06-28.
  11. ^ Oxfam: Ox-Tales Archived May 20, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Book Review of So Much for That, The Times, March 2010.
  13. ^ National Book Awards finalists 2010.
  14. ^ Thomas, Scarlett (2012-06-08). "The New Republic by Lionel Shriver - review". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2020-06-28.
  15. ^ Myerson, Julie (2013-05-11). "Big Brother by Lionel Shriver – review". The Observer. ISSN 0029-7712. Retrieved 2020-06-28.
  16. ^ Merritt, Stephanie (2016-05-08). "The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver – review". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2020-06-28.
  17. ^ The Mandibles: A Family, 2029–2047, About the Book, Harper Collins, London. Undated. Retrieved May 9, 2016.
  18. ^ Cook, Jude (May 2016). "Future Imperfect". Literary Review. Retrieved August 11, 2016.
  19. ^ (PDF link). Archived April 15, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  20. ^ Lionel Shriver, HarperCollins
  21. ^ Lionel Shriver profile, The Guardian
  22. ^ Rutherford, Adrian (March 22, 2011), "Author’s generous legacy to beloved Belfast libraries", Belfast Telegraph.
  23. ^ Hall, Eleanor (May 24, 2010), "How a death can mould a health reform crusader", ABC Online. Retrieved June 1, 2010.
  24. ^ Hall, Eleanor (May 24, 2010), "US author scathing on Obama health reform", story/interview transcript and audio, ABC Online The World Today. Retrieved June 1, 2010.
  25. ^ "Population Matters welcomes Lionel Shriver". Archived from the original on August 7, 2014. Retrieved June 28, 2014.
  26. ^ BBC News (Newsnight), "Lionel Shriver: US citizens feel need to 'counterbalance state'", December 17, 2012.
  27. ^ Nordland, Rod (September 12, 2016), "Lionel Shriver's Address on Cultural Appropriation Roils a Writers Festival", The New York Times. Retrieved September 15, 2016.
  28. ^ Grady, Constance (August 2, 2016). "Lionel Shriver's The Mandibles is the smuggest dystopian novel this side of Ayn Rand". Vox. Retrieved September 24, 2016.
  29. ^ Kalfus, Ken (June 20, 2016). "The bankruptcy of liberal America: 'The Mandibles,' by Lionel Shriver". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 24, 2016.
  30. ^ Grady, Constance (September 14, 2016). "Author Lionel Shriver dons a sombrero to lament the rise of identity politics in fiction". Vox. Retrieved September 24, 2016.
  31. ^ "Lionel Shriver's full speech: 'I hope the concept of cultural appropriation is a passing fad'". The Guardian. September 13, 2016. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved September 29, 2016.
  32. ^ "Lionel Shriver attacks Penguin publisher's inclusion policy". BBC. June 9, 2018. Retrieved June 9, 2018.
  33. ^ Barnett, David (June 12, 2018), "Lionel Shriver dropped from prize judges over diversity comments", The Guardian.
  34. ^ Shriver, Lionel (June 7, 2016). "Lionel Shriver's teenage diary: bad spelling and unreturned affections". The Guardian. Retrieved April 4, 2019.
  35. ^ Shriver, Lionel (February 9, 2016), "I Am Not a Kook", The New York Times.
  36. ^ "Lionel Shriver Doesn't Care if You Hate Her Sombrero", an interview conducted by Katherine Mangu-Ward, editor-in-chief of Reason magazine, February 2017.
  37. ^ McCauley, Stephen (May 21, 2018). "Review: Property – Stories Between Two Novellas". Sunday Book Review. The New York Times. Retrieved October 29, 2018

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Two-part interview conducted by Henk de Berg (2018).