She met her Canadian husband, Don, then a young engineering graduate, during her junior year abroad in England. They were married the week of her graduation in 1957 and settled in Canada, where Shields took on the role of what she called "a typical 1950s housewife."
"Then in the 1970s," she told a British journalist, "I took a master's degree, got involved in left-wing politics, learned French and gradually woke up."
From 1980 to 2000, Shields taught literature at the University of Manitoba, in addition to serving the last four of those years as chancellor of the University of Winnipeg.
She was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer just before Christmas 1998. She underwent a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation treatments -- and continued writing as she and her family came to terms with her approaching death.
In the months before she died, she was working on another novel, which remains unfinished.
"I've stopped writing several times, through some of the worst phases" of cancer treatment, she told the Chicago Tribune in April. "But I always start again. It's a kind of consolation. And there's something about wanting to go home to write that final book."
In addition to her husband, a retired engineering professor, Shields is survived by her children, John, Catherine, Meg and Sara and Anne; 11 grandchildren; a brother, Robert Warner; and a sister, Barbara Hipple.