Lionel Shriver

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Lionel Shriver
Shriver at Humber Mouth Festival 2006
Shriver at Humber Mouth Festival 2006
BornMargaret Ann Shriver
(1957-05-18) May 18, 1957 (age 67)
Gastonia, North Carolina, U.S.
OccupationJournalist, novelist
EducationColumbia University (BA, MFA)
Notable worksWe Need to Talk About Kevin
(m. 2003)

Lionel Shriver (born Margaret Ann Shriver; May 18, 1957) is an American author and journalist who lives in Portugal. 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, in Gastonia, North Carolina, to a religious family. Her father, Donald,[1] was a Presbyterian minister who became an academic and president of the Union Theological Seminary in New York;[2] her mother was a homemaker.[3] 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 masculine name was more appropriate.[4]

Shriver was educated at Barnard College of Columbia University (BA, MFA).[4] She has lived in Nairobi, Bangkok, Belfast, and London, and currently resides in Portugal.[4][3][5] She has taught metalsmithing at Buck's Rock Performing and Creative Arts Camp in New Milford, Connecticut.[6]



Shriver had written seventeen novels, of which seven had been published, before she wrote We Need to Talk About Kevin, which she called her "make or break" novel because of the years of "professional disappointment" and "virtual obscurity" preceding it.

In an interview with Bomb magazine, Shriver listed the various subjects of her novels up to the publication of We Need to Talk About Kevin: "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."[7]

We Need to Talk About Kevin was awarded the 2005 Orange Prize for Fiction.[8] 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.[9] 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.[10]

The novel was adapted into the 2011 film of the same name, starring Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller.[11]

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.[12]

Shriver's book So Much for That was published on March 2, 2010.[13] In the novel, Shriver presents a biting criticism of the U.S. health care system. It was named as a finalist for the National Book Award in fiction.[14] Her work The New Republic was published in 2012. It was written in 1998, but failed to find a publisher at the time.[15]

Her 2013 book, Big Brother: A Novel, was inspired by the morbid obesity of one of her brothers.[16]

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.[17] 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.[18] 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.[19]


Shriver has written for The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, The New York Times, The Economist, Harper's Magazine , and other publications,[20] plus the Radio Ulster program Talkback.[21] In July 2005, Shriver began writing a column for The Guardian,[22] 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).[10][23]

Shriver currently writes for The Spectator,[3] and occasionally contributes to the "Comment" page of The Times, standing in while regular columnist Matthew Parris is away. In a 2022 "Comment" article,[24] she argued that "Putin could nuke Ukraine and get away with it".

Shriver has argued against migration into the UK; in 2021 she wrote an article which stated "For westerners to passively accept and even abet incursions by foreigners so massive that the native-born are effectively surrendering their territory without a shot fired is biologically perverse."[25][26][27]

Political views and activism[edit]

Shriver is a Democrat.[28] She is a patron of UK population growth rate concern group Population Matters,[29] and supported Brexit, the UK's exit from the European Union.[3]

She voted for Joe Biden in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.[28] In September 2022, Shriver released an open letter in which she endorsed Republican Ron DeSantis for the 2024 U.S. Presidential election. In the letter, she criticized both Biden and Donald Trump as poor leaders, and praised DeSantis for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, banning critical race theory in schools, opposing transgender women from competing in women's sports, and passing the Florida Parental Rights in Education Act; while noting that she disagrees with him on abortion.[28]

In May 2010, Shriver criticized the American health system in an interview 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."[30][31]

As the 2016 keynote speaker at the Brisbane Writers' Festival, Shriver gave a controversial speech critical of the concept of cultural appropriation[32][33] which led the festival to "pull its links to Shriver’s speech and publicly disavow her point of view."[34] 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.[35][36] In her Writers' Festival speech, Shriver contested these criticisms of her book, stating that writers should be entitled to write from any perspective, race, gender or background that they choose.[37][33]

In June 2018, she criticized an effort by the publisher Penguin Random House to diversify the authors that it published and better represent the population, saying that it prioritized 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 criticized the statements.[38] As a result of her comments Shriver was dropped from judging a competition for the magazine Mslexia.[39]

Shriver expressed her opposition to woke and identity politics in a 2021 interview with the Evening Standard, stating that "I don't like discrimination of any kind" but adding "there is nothing malign, initially at least, in the impulse to pursue a fairer society. The biggest problem with the 'woke’ is their methods – too often involving name calling, silencing, vengefulness, and predation."[40]

In August 2023 Shriver gave an interview with the Evening Standard in which she claimed "You don’t have free speech in the UK anymore".[41]

Personal life[edit]

Shriver married jazz drummer Jeff Williams in 2003.[42] They live in Portugal.[43]

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 1970s and discussed her upbringing and adolescence.[44][45][46]



Short fiction
  • Property – Stories Between Two Novellas, 2018 collection[47]


  • Abominations: Selected Essays from a Career of Courting Self-Destruction (2022)


  1. ^ "In Memoriam: The Rev. Dr. Donald W. Shriver Jr". Union Theological Seminary. August 6, 2021. Retrieved April 28, 2022.
  2. ^ Groskop, Viv (April 20, 2013). "Lionel Shriver: time to talk about her big brother". The Observer. ISSN 0261-3077.
  3. ^ a b c d Levy, Ariel (May 25, 2020). "Lionel Shriver Is Looking for Trouble". The New Yorker. Retrieved June 28, 2020.
  4. ^ a b c Barber, Lynn (April 22, 2007). "We need to talk ..." The Guardian. Retrieved January 31, 2017.
  5. ^ Interview with Chris Harvey, Telegraph online, 3 April 2024.
  6. ^ Shriver, Lionel (January 30, 2010), "So Much for That" (essay), Powell's Books.
  7. ^ Shute, Jenefer. "Lionel Shriver" Archived October 9, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. Bomb magazine, Fall 2005. July 26, 2011.
  8. ^ "Orange Prize citation". Women's Prize for Fiction. Archived from the original on February 22, 2014.
  9. ^ "Honesty is key for Orange winner". BBC News. June 7, 2005. Retrieved December 8, 2006.
  10. ^ a b Brady, Tara, "Talking about Kevin", The Irish Times, October 21, 2011.
  11. ^ Cochrane, Kira (October 11, 2011). "Tilda Swinton: 'I didn't speak for five years'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved June 28, 2020.
  12. ^ "Oxfam: Ox-Tales". Archived from the original on May 20, 2009.
  13. ^ Book Review of So Much for That, The Times, March 2010.
  14. ^ "National Book Awards finalists 2010".
  15. ^ Thomas, Scarlett (June 8, 2012). "The New Republic by Lionel Shriver – review". The Guardian. Retrieved June 28, 2020.
  16. ^ Myerson, Julie (May 11, 2013). "Big Brother by Lionel Shriver – review". The Observer. Retrieved June 28, 2020.
  17. ^ Merritt, Stephanie (May 8, 2016). "The Mandibles: A Family, 2029–2047 by Lionel Shriver – review". The Guardian. Retrieved June 28, 2020.
  18. ^ The Mandibles: A Family, 2029–2047, About the Book, Harper Collins, London. Undated. Retrieved May 9, 2016.
  19. ^ Cook, Jude (May 2016). "Future Imperfect". Literary Review. Retrieved August 11, 2016.
  20. ^ Lionel Shriver, HarperCollins
  21. ^ "(PDF link)" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on April 15, 2012.
  22. ^ Lionel Shriver profile, The Guardian
  23. ^ Rutherford, Adrian (March 22, 2011), "Author’s generous legacy to beloved Belfast libraries", Belfast Telegraph.
  24. ^ The Times 23 April 2022
  25. ^ Shriver, Lionel (August 28, 2021). "Would you want London to be overrun with Americans like me?". The Spectator. Retrieved September 17, 2021.
  26. ^ Malik, Kenan (September 5, 2021). "To be truly British, the country needs to stay largely white. Really, Lionel Shriver?". The Observer. ISSN 0029-7712. Retrieved September 17, 2021.
  27. ^ Portes, Jonathan (September 1, 2021). "An obsession with migration figures is about more than just numbers". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved September 17, 2021.
  28. ^ a b c Shriver, Lionel (September 22, 2022). "An open letter to Ron DeSantis". Spiked Online.
  29. ^ "Population Matters welcomes Lionel Shriver". Archived from the original on August 7, 2014. Retrieved June 28, 2014.
  30. ^ Hall, Eleanor (May 24, 2010), "How a death can mould a health reform crusader", ABC Online. Retrieved June 1, 2010.
  31. ^ 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.
  32. ^ Nordland, Rod (September 12, 2016). "Lionel Shriver's Address on Cultural Appropriation Roils a Writers Festival". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 15, 2016.
  33. ^ a b "Lionel Shriver's full speech: 'I hope the concept of cultural appropriation is a passing fad'". The Guardian. September 13, 2016. Retrieved September 29, 2016.
  34. ^ Tolentino, Jia (September 14, 2016), "Lionel Shriver Puts On a Sombrero", The New Yorker. Retrieved August 3, 2021.
  35. ^ 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.
  36. ^ Kalfus, Ken (June 20, 2016). "The bankruptcy of liberal America: 'The Mandibles,' by Lionel Shriver". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 24, 2016.
  37. ^ 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.
  38. ^ "Lionel Shriver attacks Penguin publisher's inclusion policy". BBC. June 9, 2018. Retrieved June 9, 2018.
  39. ^ Barnett, David (June 12, 2018), "Lionel Shriver dropped from prize judges over diversity comments", The Guardian.
  40. ^ Curtis, Nick (June 16, 2021). "Lionel Shriver: The biggest problem with the 'woke' is their methods". Evening Standard.
  41. ^ Lionel Shriver: ‘free speech doesn’t exist in the UK now’’. Evening Standard. August 29, 2023
  42. ^ Barber, Lynn (April 14, 2013). "In the shadow of my big brother". The Sunday Times. Retrieved October 13, 2021.
  43. ^ Shriver, Lionel (October 4, 2023). "I'm leaving Britain – and I feel guilty". The Spectator. Retrieved January 24, 2024.
  44. ^ Shriver, Lionel (June 7, 2016). "Lionel Shriver's teenage diary: bad spelling and unreturned affections". The Guardian. Retrieved April 4, 2019.
  45. ^ Shriver, Lionel (February 9, 2016), "I Am Not a Kook", The New York Times.
  46. ^ "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.
  47. ^ 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]

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