Shirley Cartlidge was born in Indianola; she grew up and completed high school in Leland. She continued her education at Mississippi Valley State University and earned a bachelor's degree in English; additionally, she earned a master's degree in English and in Administration & Supervision from Delta State University. She was trained with the Mississippi Writing Thinking Institute from Mississippi State University and also is a graduate of the Delta Area Writing Project (an affiliate of the National Writing Project of California). Additional training included studies at Tuskegee Institute. She currently also serves as President of the Women's Auxiliary to Washington General Baptist Association. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and Eta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. She is married to Dr. Arthur Cartlidge.