Shelton, Richard 1933–

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Shelton, Richard 1933–


Born June 24, 1933, in Boise, ID; son of Leonard P. and Hazel Shelton; married Lois Bruce (director of University of Arizona Poetry Center), December 24, 1956; children: Brad Scott. Education: Attended Harding College, 1951-53; Abilene Christian College (now University), B.A., 1958; University of Arizona, M.A., 1961.


Home—Tucson, AZ. Office—Department of English, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721. E-mail—[email protected].


Teacher in public schools in Bisbee, AZ, 1958-60; University of Arizona, Tucson, instructor, 1960-70, assistant professor, 1970-74, associate professor, 1974-79, professor of English, beginning 1979, became professor emeritus, director of Creative Writing Program, 1979-81. Director of writers workshop in Arizona State Prisons, Arizona Commission on the Arts, 1974-80; member of board of directors, Associated Writing Programs, 1983—. Judge of Lamont Poetry Award, Academy of American Poets, 1980-82. Military service: U.S. Army, 1956-58.


P.E.N., Poetry Society of America, National Federation of State Poetry Societies (national honorary chancellor).


United States Award, International Poetry Forum, 1970; Borestone Mountain Poetry Awards, 1970, 1971, 1972; National Endowment for the Arts writer's fellowship, 1977; named national honorary chancellor, National Federation of State Poetry Societies, 1983; Governor's Arts Award (with wife, Lois Shelton), 1991, for support of the arts in Arizona; Western States Book Award for Creative Nonfiction, 1992, for Going Back to Bisbee; Lannan Foundation grant, 2000; Henry and Phyllis Koffler Prize, University of Arizona, 2006, for outstanding accomplishment in teaching; nominations for Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, for The Bus to Bisbee; Arizona Literary Treasure Award, Arizona Book Festival; April 22, 2006, was proclaimed Richard Shelton Day by Arizona governor Janet Napolitano.



Going Back to Bisbee, University of Arizona Press (Tucson, AZ), 1992.

Crossing the Yard: Thirty Years as a Prison Volunteer, University of Arizona Press (Tucson, AZ), 2007.


Journal of Return, Kayak, 1969.

The Tattooed Desert, University of Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1971.

Calendar, Baleen Press (Phoenix, AZ), 1972.

The Heroes of Our Time, Best Cellar (Phoenix, AZ), 1972.

Of All the Dirty Words, University of Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1972.

Among the Stones, Monument Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1972.

You Can't Have Everything, University of Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1975.

Chosen Place, Best Cellar (Crete, NE), 1975.

(Editor) The Unfinished Man: The Poems of Paul David Ashley, Baleen Press (Phoenix, AZ), 1977.

The Bus to Veracruz, University of Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1978.

Selected Poems: 1969-1981, University of Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1982.

A Kind of Glory, Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), 1982.

Hohokam, Sun/Gemini Press (Tucson, AZ), 1986, 2nd edition, 1993.

The Other Side of the Story, Confluence Press (Lewiston, ID), 1987.

(Author of lyrics) The Tattooed Desert: For Baritone and Eight Players, Op. 12, Trillenium Music Co. (Tunbridge, VT), 1995.

The Last Person to Hear Your Voice, University of Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 2007.

Also author of documentary films The Hidden Desert, 1979, Another Day, 1981, and The Sound of Water, 1983, all produced by Flandrau Planetarium of the University of Arizona. Contributor of poems to literary and popular journals, including Harper's, Poetry, Kayak, Atlantic, Paris Review, Antioch Review, and New Yorker. Shelton's work has been translated into Spanish, Swedish, Polish, Japanese, and French.


Richard Shelton is a writer who has taught for many years at the University of Arizona. He is known primarily as a poet, whose collections include Among the Stones, You Can't Have Everything, and The Bus to Veracruz. Carolyn Kizer, a writer for the Washington Post Book World, commented that a number of Shelton's poems are "preserved and cherished by his peers," and stated that with the publication of Selected Poems: 1969-1981, he "should be acknowledged as in the first rank of American poets."

In addition to his volumes of poetry, Shelton has also published two memoirs: Going Back to Bisbee and Crossing the Yard: Thirty Years as a Prison Volunteer. The first is a meditation by the author about the town of Bisbee, Arizona. Shelton first came to Arizona in 1956 while serving with the U.S. Army at Fort Huachuca. In 1958, he left the service and took a job teaching middle school in Bisbee, which was also in the southeastern part of the state. Shelton and his wife liked the area, and Bisbee itself, which was a quaint town that had prospered during a copper-mining boom, then faded. Somewhat reluctantly, the couple moved on after a few years, to Tucson, where Shelton began his long career at the University of Arizona. The book takes in the author's memories of his first years in Bisbee as well as recounting a trip back there years later. His work is "a powerful annal of place," one that conjures up scenes of the region "with resonance," according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Franklin Burroughs, writing for Southern Review, commented that the book gives "a good deal of detail about flora, fauna, geology, aboriginal and postcolonial history, local politics, and so forth. But these things are consistently extraneous. Shelton speaks for them as a tour guide might, giving us colorful stories and legends, facts and lore chosen for oddity and dramatized, whenever possible, by autobiographical reminiscence."

Shelton wrote about his own life experiences again in Crossing the Yard. This memoir focuses on Shelton's years of work in creative-writing workshops in various penitentiaries in Arizona. His association with this type of program began in 1970, when Shelton—who had just begun teaching and publishing—was asked for a poetry critique by a serial killer who was incarcerated in the state's prison system, on death row. Shelton agreed, and "thus began one of the longest, strangest, yet ultimately most satisfying aspects of his career," noted Carol Haggas in a review for Booklist. Over the years, he worked with many prisoners in all kinds of circumstances—from the inspirational to the frightening. Haggas found Shelton's account of his prison work to be a "spellbinding" narrative, one that demonstrates the triumph of the creative spirit even in unexpected places. A Kirkus Reviews writer noted that the author, despite his career in poetry, renders this memoir "in a simple, straight ahead and occasionally gritty prose."



Shelton, Richard, Going Back to Bisbee, University of Arizona Press (Tucson, AZ), 1992.

Shelton, Richard, Crossing the Yard: Thirty Years as a Prison Volunteer, University of Arizona Press (Tucson, AZ), 2007.


Booklist, September 15, 2007, Carol Haggas, review of Crossing the Yard, p. 7.

Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2007, review of Crossing the Yard.

Library Journal, September 15, 2007, Frances Sandiford, review of Crossing the Yard, p. 69.

Publishers Weekly, June 29, 1992, review of Going Back to Bisbee, p. 56.

Sierra, March 1, 1993, Kathleen Courrier, review of Going Back to Bisbee.

Southern Review, January 1, 1994, Franklin Burroughs, review of Going Back to Bisbee, p. 143.

Washington Post Book World, June 26, 1983, Carolyn Kizer, review of Selected Poems: 1969-1981.


Arizona Humanities Council Web site, (June 30, 2008), biographical information about Richard Shelton.

Richard Shelton Home Page, (June 30, 2008).

University of Arizona News Web site, (May 4, 2000), Julieta Gonzalez, "UA Regents Professor Richard Shelton Receives Major Lannan Foundation Award."