Sheeler, Jim 1969-
Sheeler, Jim 1969-
Born 1969, in TX; married; wife's name Annick; children: James. Education: Colorado State University, B.A., 1990; University of Colorado, M.A.
Journalist. Boulder Daily Camera, Boulder, CO, 1991-96; Boulder Planet, Boulder, senior staff writer, 1996-2000; Denver Post, Denver, CO, freelance writer, 1999-2003; Rocky Mountain News, Denver, staff writer, 2004—.
Obituary Writer's Hall of Fame, 2006.
Pulitzer Prize for feature writing, 2006, for "Final Salute."
Obit: Inspiring Stories of Ordinary People Who Led Extraordinary Lives, Pruett Publishing (Boulder, CO), 2007.
Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives, Penguin Press (New York, NY), 2008.
Contributor to anthologies, including Best Newspaper Writing 2006-2007, CQ Press; and Life on the Death Beat, Marion Press.
Jim Sheeler was born and raised in Texas, only leaving in 1986 when he went to Colorado to attend Colorado State University. He earned his undergraduate degree in journalism, then continued his education at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he graduated with his master's degree in journalism. Sheeler has worked for years as a journalist, getting his start writing obituaries and turning the traditionally entry-level assignment into something of an art. In 2006, he was inducted into the Obituary Writer's Hall of Fame, and that same year he won a Pulitzer Prize for feature writing for his story "Final Salute." Sheeler has written for a number of newspapers in the Colorado area, including the Boulder Daily Camera, Boulder Planet, Denver Post, and the Rocky Mountain News. It was at the Rocky Mountain News that Sheeler was promoted to writing feature-length works. In addition to his journalistic endeavors, Sheeler has written two books, Obit: Inspiring Stories of Ordinary People Who Led Extraordinary Lives, and Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives.
In Obit, Sheeler uses the obituaries that first launched him as a journalist to give readers a slightly different look at death. He draws vivid pictures of the lives of numerous individuals, chronicling what made each one of them special and different. At the same time, he is able to record the end of an era as a certain generation of Western types comes to an end, one by one. Many of the individuals whose lives Sheeler records in this volume moved to the Colorado area following World War Two in hopes of building a better life in an area that was less populated and less dependent on cities and industry, still populated with smaller towns and with people willing to work hard and live off the land. Others contributed thorough small efforts that gave them a place in their social and economic circles, while still having the time and the freedom to enjoy nature and the majesty of the Rocky Mountains. Warren Conner, one man whose obituary Sheeler included in Obit, came from a mining family, and he was one of the last to live in a group of cottages that eventually found themselves in the shadow of an immensely successful international ski resort, a definitive sign that the landscape of Colorado had changed in his lifetime. In the life story of William Lyman Davies, Sheeler shows how cowboy imagery went from cool to quaint in the span of a lifetime, as he recounts Davies's efforts to build a stainless steel diner by the side of the road that went by the name of "The Cowboy on the Roof." Through the obituary of Lois Engel, Sheeler also recounts the death of a town—Agate, Colorado—where the train depot is now deserted and the fields are filled with the remnants of wheat crops that have dried nearly to dust. In many ways, Sheeler's book offers readers the obituary of a time and a place, and not just the stories of a series of individual lives. Peggy Lowe, writing for the New West Web site, commented: "If I have a beef with this book, it's the title. I don't believe these people lived extraordinary lives—unless you consider a sugar beet farmer who plays the harmonica with his nose to have a fabulous existence." She concluded, however, that "Sheeler breathes new life into the old newspaper fixture of obituaries, adding street reporting and deft writing touches." A contributor for Internet Bookwatch found the book "an emotionally moving read whether explored a few pages at a time or all at once."
Final Salute is an extended version of the feature article for which Sheeler won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize. For the story, Sheeler looks into how the United States Marine Corps chooses to notify the family when a loved one is killed in combat, an especially timely and pertinent topic in the West in light of the strong military tradition in many of the area families and the rising number of fatalities from the ongoing war in Iraq. Local Marines go to the homes of family members who are to be notified, and not only do they hand deliver the tragic news, but they continue to provide support for the family in the days after notifying them. Sheeler and photographer Todd Heisler spent a year tracking Major Steve Beck as he handled this particular duty, as well as the families whose lives he changed, chronicling the mourning process as well as the efforts of the Marines to make the adjustment as easy as possible. The twelve-thousand-word article was a special section of the newspaper when it was released, then later received wider distribution online. After the article was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, Sheeler moved forward to expand it into a full-length book.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Editor & Publisher, May 1, 2006, "Pulitzer 2006: Military ‘Salute’ Nets 2 Wins in Denver."
Internet Bookwatch, June, 2007, review of Obit: Inspiring Stories of Ordinary People Who Led Extraordinary Lives.
Library Journal, May 15, 2007, Dale Farris, review of Obit, p. 98.
Quill, June 1, 2006, "Non-deadline Reporting," p. 62; September, 2007, review of Obit, p. 4.
Reference & Research Book News, November, 2007, review of Obit.
Daily Camera,http://www.dailycamera.com/ (June 15, 2007), Brittany Anas, "Bringing Out the Dead: Jim Sheerer's Obit."
Jim Sheeler Home Page,http://web.mac.com/jsheeler/jimsheeler.com (March 25, 2008).
New West,http://www.newwest.net/ (September 10, 2007), Peggy Lowe, "Jim Sheeler's Obit Brings Life to Dead Westerners."