Poster design: Ryan Gajda

Poster design: Ryan Gajda

About the book:

Something rare is happening in publishing. In an unusual bout of artistic justice, author John Williams has become an international bestseller twenty years after his death. He’s garnering much-belated praise for Stoner, a book that’s being called ‘a perfect novel’ and ‘the most beautiful book in the world’, with prose ‘as limpid as glass’. But readers start asking: what’s the story behind Stoner? And who is the man who wrote this perfect novel?

Charlie Shields, the author of the proposed biography, has already established a reputation for himself as an award-winning biographer for adults and young adults. As the first biographer of Kurt Vonnegut and the author of a bestselling biography on Harper Lee, Shields has a history of uncovering the lives of writers in engrossing, convincing detail. He has the full approval of Williams’s widow and executors to carry out this task. 

John Williams is the next mystery Shields hopes to unveil. As more and more articles about Williams appear—in The New York Review of BooksThe GuardianThe MillionsThe New YorkerThe New York Times, and elsewhere—Williams’s works are being revived all over the world. It’s about time we meet the man who presented us with this extraordinary work – and who lived an extraordinary life.


Good to know:

  • John Williams’ novel Stoner is the single most important rediscovery of 2013, with almost one million copies sold worldwide, in 35 countries
  • Stoner almost single-handedly sparked a renewed interest in forgotten gems, literary masterpieces that were overlooked in the period they were published
  • Stoner was voted best book of the year 2013 by Waterstones in the UK
  • Reached the top of the bestseller list in Holland, to remain there for 5 weeks in a row
  • We created a special Tumblr page with 'stories and anecdotes', that Charles Shields provided us with while writing The Man Who Wrote the Perfect Novel
  • Check out some great John Williams stories on the website of Charles Shields
  • Charles Shields wrote two New York Times bestsellers: the biographies of Kurt Vonnegut and Harper Lee
  • Read a sample translation here
  • Manuscript available fall 2016
  • Full proposal available
  • The biography is authorized by Nancy Williams and Williams’ agent, Frances Collin

About Charles Shields:

Charles J. Shields is an American nonfiction writer of trade biographies, history, young adult books, and e-books. 

In 1997, Shields left a career in high school teaching and administration to write independently. Over the course of the next six years, he published 20 histories and biographies for young people.

Shields’s first biography for adults in 2006— Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee (Holt) went on to become a New York Times bestseller, and a perennial favorite of readers and teachers, now in its 10th printing.

“This biography will not disappoint those who loved the novel and the feisty, independent, fiercely loyal Scout, in whom Harper Lee put so much of herself,” wrote Garrison Keillor in theNew York Times Sunday Book Review.

In connection with the NEA’s “Big Read” initiative, Shields spoke to hundreds of audiences about his biography of Harper Lee for community-wide reads of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Two years later, Shields followed-up his biography of Lee with a young adult version: I Am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee (Holt), which received awards from ALA Best Books for Young Adults; Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year; Arizona Grand Canyon Young Readers Master List.

In 2009, with fellow biographers Nigel Hamilton, James McGrath Morris, and Pulitzer-prize winner Debby Applegate, Shields co-founded Biographers International Organization (BIO), a non-profit organization founded to promote the art and craft of biography. As of 2014, BIO has 350 members in 45 American states and 10 nations, including Australia, India, Kenya, and the Netherlands.

In November 2011, Shields published the first biography of Kurt Vonnegut— And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut, A Life (Holt), described as an “incisive, gossipy page-turner of a biography,” by Janet Maslin and an “engrossing, definitive biography” by Publishers Weekly in a starred review. It was selected as a New York Times Notable Book, and Washington Post Notable Nonfiction Book for 2011.

Shields served as a judge for the 2013 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography.


About John Williams:

John Williams (1922–1994) was born and raised in northeast Texas. Despite a talent for writing and acting, Williams flunked out of a local junior college after his first year. He reluctantly joined the war effort, enlisting in the Army Air Corps, and managed to write a draft of his first novel while there. Once home, Williams found a small publisher for the novel and enrolled at the University of Denver, where he was eventually to receive both his B.A. and M.A., and where he was to return as an instructor in 1954. He remained on the staff of the creative writing program at the University of Denver until his retirement in 1985. During these years, he was an active guest lecturer and writer, editing an anthology of English Renaissance poetry and publishing two volumes of his own poems, as well as three novels, Butcher’s CrossingStoner, and the National Book Award–winning Augustus.



“I was John Williams’ close friend and university colleague during his writing years, and I can assure readers that The Man Who Wrote the Perfect Novel is a critically insightful life of this shamefully neglected American novelist. Meticulously researched, straight forward, nonidolatrus, and with a captivating narrative, it's a journey through the life and mind of Williams and his masterpiece, Stoner." 

Robert S. Pawlowski


“I read it like eating salty peanuts. It’s wonderful— and there’s a lot more here about John than I ever knew." Joanne Greenberg, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden


“A difficult, tormented, fascinating writer lives within this book. As Williams’ former student, I couldn’t recommend it more.” Angela Ball, professor of English in the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi, and poetry editor for the Mississippi Review


Rights sold:

Holland / Belgium (Lebowski)

Italy (Fazi)

Sweden (Natur Och Kultur)

Germany (DTV)



‘A terrific novel of echoing sadness’ Julian Barnes

‘John Williams’ Stoner is something rarer than a great novel – it is a perfect novel, so well told and beautifully written, so deeply moving that it takes your breath away’ Morris Dickstein, The New York Times Book Review

‘It is a marvelous discovery for everyone who loves literature’ Ian McEwan

‘One of the great forgotten novels of the past century. I have bought at least 50 copies of it in the past few years, using it as a gift for friends. It is universally adored by writers and readers alike. The book is so beautifully paced and cadenced that it deserves the status of classic’ Colum McCann



Website Charles Shields

Tumblr with stories and anecdotes

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Rights are handled by Lebowski Publishers