By Karen Valby
August 01, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT

Margaret Atwood once said that her friend and countrywoman Carol Shields, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Stone Diaries, wasn’t taken seriously because ”she’s cute, short, and blond.” And Shields, who died on July 16 at age 68 in Victoria, British Columbia, after a valiant fight against breast cancer, was indeed often facilely dismissed by critics as the creator of cute domestic novels. ”I used to get the reviews about the superficial nature of these women’s mag books,” Shields told EW last spring. ”But I always knew women’s lives had value and it was worth writing about them.”