Sheila teaches workshops in poetry, creative nonfiction, memoir, and place-based writing. Her creative writing workshops emphasize generating work through reading and writing exercises, and honing technique through giving and receiving thoughtful feedback. She also teaches courses in American and world literature, film and literature, and editing, and she often mentors independent studies in sense of place and travel writing. Sheila’s rural Kentucky background has given her a strong sense of place, community, and history, as well as a love for stories. “Stories are why I often keep long office hours, strike up conversations with strangers, and travel to out-of-the-way places. One of my greatest joys is helping student writers find their voices and tell their stories. I am at Prescott College because its philosophy validates my own process of learning and my style of teaching: here I am encouraged to experiment and to cross disciplines, but most importantly, to spend time really working with students.”
Sheila has published two poetry collections, Ok by Me and Keeping Even (Stephen F. Austin University Press/Texas A&M University Press Consortium). Her poems have appeared in journals such as Alaska Quarterly Review, Crazyhorse, Miramar, North American Review, Nimrod, and Spillway. They have also been included in anthologies such as Language Lessons (Third Man Press); One for the Money: The Sentence as Poetic Form (Lynx House Press); and Poets of the West and West Coast (Southern Poetry Review). Her prose has appeared in journals such as Big Muddy, Room, and The Southeast Review.
Sheila serves as editor for Alligator Juniper, Prescott College’s national literary journal, which has won three awards for content from Association of Writers and Writing Programs. Pieces originally published in the journal have been included in award-winning collections as well as reprinted in anthologies such as Best of the West and Verse Daily. Students in the editing course, Literary Journal Practicum, serve as the staff for this journal, gaining invaluable experience in the field of publishing as well as honing the critical skills so essential to a writer.
M.F.A., Poetry, University of California, Irvine
M.A., English, Murray State University
B.S., English, Murray State University
Ok by Me, Stephen F. Austin University Press/Texas A&M Consortium, Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas, 2017.
Keeping Even, Stephen F. Austin University Press/Texas A&M Consortium, Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas, 2011.
Poetry in Periodicals
“Just as you begin to imagine,” Nimrod International Journal, Let Us Gather: Diversity & the Arts Issue, 61:2, Spring/Summer 2018
“Worship of the Fragment,” Chariton Review, 41:1, Spring/Summer 2018
“Letter from Dark and Bloody Ground,” Chariton Review, 41:1, Spring/Summer 2018
“What I Wished For When I Threw Two Coins into the Trevi Fountain,” New Madrid, Spring/Summer 2018
“Ever the Spoiled Shall Whine,” New Madrid, Spring/Summer 2018
“The new moon has two cures,” Western Humanities Review, 72.1, Spring 2018
“Doorway at Chaco Canyon,” Southwestern American Literature, 43:1, Fall 2017
“A storybook quiet this evening,” Southern Indiana Review, 24:2, Fall 2017
“Letter from Kentucky Remembering an Idaho Winter,” The Louisville Review, 82, Fall 2017
“My Love Is to Me as Water in the Desert,” North American Review, 302:2, Spring 2017.
“Inside a Walled City of Transylvania,” Arts & Letters, 34, Spring 2017
“The Language of the Old People Goes with Them,” Cloudbank, 11, Spring 2017
“What the Trouble Is,” Miramar, 2017
“At Chaco Canyon thinking of stone,” Southern Poetry Review, 54:2, Spring 2017
“Tumbleweeds invade the plazas,” Southern Poetry Review, 54:2, Spring 2017
“She said never trifle with a crossroads,” Hubbub, 32, 2017
“Written on the Back of a Topo Map of the Alaska Range,” Hubbub, 30, 2015
“Giving Up the Ghost,” Hubbub, 30, 2015
“Looking for the Absence of Wildlife,” Miramar, 2015
“Turkiye,” Spillway, Muse & Music Issue, 22, Winter 2014
“Call Me Slipshod,” Miramar, 2014
“Though the End Be No Mystery,” Spillway, The Road Not Taken Issue, 20, Summer 2013
“Cattails,” Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, 11:2, 2012
“‘Only One Place to Be: Hell or Kentucky,’” Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, 11:2, 2012
“Conspiracy in White,” Crab Orchard Review, Winter/Spring 2012
“Lazarus Hearing His Name Called,” Alaska Quarterly Review, 27:3/4, Fall/Winter 2010
“High Desert Arizona,” Southern Poetry Review, 47:2, 2010
“It So Happens,” Cimarron Review, Summer 2003
“The Flyway,” Nimrod International Journal, The Celtic Fringe: Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Nova Scotia, U.S.A., Spring/Summer 2001
“Saguaro,” Nimrod International Journal, Spring/Summer 2001
“Spendthrift,” Nimrod International Journal, Spring/Summer 2001
“In a Stand of Saguaro, Thinking of Cedar,” Nimrod International Journall, Spring/Summer 2001
“Woodcut,” Nimrod International Journal, Spring/Summer 2001
“Tectonics,” Crazyhorse, Winter 1999
“Rift Valley,” Atlanta Review, Africa Issue, Spring/Summer 1999
“Old Kentucky Home,” Room, 40:4, Fall 2017
“The Bacon-Only Diet,” The Southeast Review, 35:2, Fall 2017
“Notes from the Flyway,” Big Muddy, 17:2, Summer 2017
“High Desert Arizona,” Poets of the West and West Coast, Southern Poetry Review, 51:2, 2015
“In the Temple of the Bulrushes,” Language Lessons, Third Man Press, 2014
“Though the End Be No Mystery,” Language Lessons, Third Man Press, 2014
“Conspiracy in White,” Language Lessons, Third Man Press, 2014
“It So Happens,” One for the Money: The Sentence as a Poetic Form, a Poetry Workshop Handbook and Anthology, Lynx House Press, 2012
“Tectonics,” Verse Daily, Fall 2012 (from Crazyhorse)
“Written on the Back of a Topo Map of the Alaska Range,” Gamut, 2017
“High Desert Arizona,” Featured Poet, San Pedro River Review, 2016
“Overtaken by a Stampede of Tumbleweed,” Featured Poet, San Pedro River Review, 2016
“Easter Sunday,” Featured Poet, San Pedro River Review, 2015
“The Stopping Place,” Featured Poet, San Pedro River Review, 2015
“‘Only One Place to Be: Hell or Kentucky,’” Featured Poet, San Pedro River Review, 2015
“Never and Always,” Featured Poet, San Pedro River Review, 2015
“Loving You from Vortex, Kentucky,” Parable, 2013
“Because Salvage Trumps Oblivion,” Parable, 2013
Book Reviews on Ok by Me in Periodicals
“Ok by Me, Sheila Sanderson,” by Linnea Nelson, Cloudbank, Summer 2018
“On Sheila Sanderson’s Ok by Me” by Brooke Sahni, Puerto Del Sol, February 7, 2018
Associated Writing Programs Conference, Book Signing, Tampa, Florida, 2017
Peregrine Series, Featured Author, Reading, Prescott, Arizona, 2017
36th Annual Writers Week, Group Reading, University of California, Riverside, 2013
Peregrine Series, Featured Author, Reading, Prescott, Arizona, 2013
Peregrine Series, Featured Editor, Presentation, Prescott, Arizona, 2013
Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival, Featured Author, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, 2012
Life in Letters Writers Conference, Featured Author, Reading and Panel, Prescott College, Prescott, Arizona, 2012
Sabbatical Presentation, Prescott College, Prescott, Arizona, 2011
Association of University Women, Featured Author and Lecturer, 1996
Arts & Letters Faculty Showcases, Bi-annual Group Readings, 1995-2013
Associated Writing Programs Conference, “A Showcase of Arizona Writers,” Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, 1994
Poetry Center, Group Reading, Tucson, Arizona, 1992
Awards, Grants & Honors
Alligator Juniper, Prescott College's national literary journal, has won three Director's Awards from Association of Writers & Writing Programs. Several pieces originally published in the journal have been reprinted in award-winning collections and/or featured in anthologies such as Verse Daily and Best of the West.
Students who have studied creative writing at Prescott College have had success in taking their work beyond the classroom: some have published work in undergraduate literary journals; some have won contests with their work; some have been accepted to prestigious MFA programs, earned scholarships, teaching and research assistantships; some have had their pieces accepted for publication in national journals and other media, and a few have had their books accepted for publication.
Coverage in News & Media
Book Reviews on Ok by Me by Sheila Sanderson (see text of reviews below)
"Ok by Me, Sheila Sanderson,” by Linnea Nelson, Cloudbank, Summer 2018
“On Sheila Sanderson’s Ok by Me” by Brooke Sahni, Puerto Del Sol, February 7, 2018
About Ok by Me (back of book cover)
Sanderson pays close attention to nature and her appreciation is specific, fresh, and hard-won, for Sanderson is a poet who, through hands-on observation, realizes the ironies and inequities of experience. And so her vision is subtle, wry, and realistic. The experience of a Sanderson poem is always essential. Her voice is uniquely her own, and a reader will hear Biblical overlays at the edges, in her poetry's fierce music, in its gravity and concern. Sanderson commands a consistent and sophisticated syntax, and her voice, her style, support and include the contradictions of hope—which is where her poems brilliantly lead.
Written in a wondrous blend of the vernacular and the philosophical, the poems in Sheila Sanderson’s Keeping Even glow with radiance and wit and accrue meaning and nuance with each new section. Sanderson beautifully meditates on the epiphanies of travel, the knotty loyalties of family and home, the bewilderment of grief, and the complex gratitude for being “temporarily employed by the species.” A brilliant book.
--K. L. Cook
Sheila Sanderson’s voice—the satisfying billow and twang of her virtuosic language and the tender precision of her Kentucky-inflected and Arizona-seared observations—this voice will get in your head and stay there, surprising you alternately with tough-luck her toughness and her reckless hopefulness.
Review of Ok by Me by Linnea Nelson published in Cloudbank(Spring 2018)
The poems in this collection are rustic and earthy. They dwell, in rich detail, on the natural world, and are concerned with the physical geographies and histories of the places the speaker finds herself, or her imagination: Kentucky, most notably, but also Chaco Canyon, Alaska, Idaho, Transylvania, and beyond.
Ok by Me feels like a poetic archaeological dig, drawing meaning from the remnants of the speaker’s own history, that of her ancestors, and the ancient civilizations which inhabited landscapes to which she feels bound. The language, artifacts, and scenes rendered in such pieces as “Just as you begin to imagine eternity,” “Though the End Be No Mystery,” and “Written on the Back of a Topo Map of the Alaska Range” point, poignantly, to the truth that the speaker (and every human) is one of billions of creatures to pass though time. In some lines this recognition is met with simple acceptance, as the collection’s title suggests. But in some, the reaction is more tender, as in one poem’s closing, “maybe that’s what I love about this country—/ it keeps offering me chances to feel tiny /and I keep taking them.”
More specifically , embedded in many of Sanderson’s poems is awareness of an inevitable end (I’m tempted to capitalize the word), and the accompanying sense of insignificance—of being “just a small farm among farms,” as it were, like Sanderson’s ancestral Kentucky home. She insists on, and even revels in, this situation—and on endurance—as evidenced by the beautiful, affirming declarations, “the more I live, / the more I want to live.”
The gravity of Sanderson’s themes in no way deadens her writing. There is a buoyant, playful quality to “Slipshod,” for example—the first poem of the book—its line breaks winking back at the reader in their double meanings and Kentuckian voice.
Call me slipshod,
blouse held together
with safety pins,
no surviving water glass
in my cupboard,
and a teakettle shaped
like a strawberry
fused to the stove.
In “She said never trifle with a crossroads,” actual crossroads present themselves halfway through the poem, after the reader has been led to interpret the crossroads as only metaphorical. And “Looking or the absence of wildlife” offers such meta-linguistic delights as,
A pretty decent gig
this waiting for nothing,
in the language
you spot the spot
that once spotted
cannot be unseen
While Ok by Me strives for absolute statements in the contexts of profound, and maybe unanswerable, questions, the third and final section of the book turns towards a reverential harmony with a less intellectualized state of being: as Sanderson express it in “Drift,” “the pure pleasure / of saying yes without thinking.”
Review of Ok by Me by Brooke Sahni published in Puerto Del Sol (Spring 2018)
Sheila Sanderson’s second collection Ok By Me (Stephen F. Austin University Press) draws us into landscapes both familiar and foreign. The first section includes poems such as “Written on the Back of a Topo Map of the Alaska Range” and “Doorway at Chaco Canyon,” while later sections include poems such as “In a Walled City of Transylvania” and “Turkiye.” In the prose poem, “Old Kentucky Home,” the speaker contemplates the “brown lifeline of the Mississippi” from the air, aligning her notion of home with her great grandfather’s. Kentucky may be Sanderson’s ballast, but we don’t have to have been there to understand how a place teaches us ways of knowing the world.
One marvels at Sanderson’s ability to lead us well beyond our expectation of what “place poem” might look like. Consider the envoy, “Slipshod.” Its first line, “Call me slipshod,” echoes the famous epic on the sea as the speaker surveys and accounts for the disheveled mess of her household:
I did inherit
attitude toward tinfoil,
jelly jars and rubber
bands, and all on my own
have taken to saving
lottery tickets past due,
for who knows
what adds up to luck?
From the “black hole of letters, /coupons and other/important documents…” to the kitchen where the speaker’s lover finds “leavings from the four basic food/ groups on his footsoles,” Sanderson gives life to micro spaces before seamlessly linking them to the speaker’s origins in “the so-called dark and blood ground of Kentucky:”
Maybe I am as I am
because I am half-trash
to begin with
Having eluded greater pitfalls she associates with conventional life in that place—mistaking cleanliness for godliness or remaining in an unhappy marriage—the speaker redefines the pejorative often used to describe her, so that she may embrace it. Ultimately, “Slipshod” becomes a poem of inheritance and identity:
and may I add that yes,
maybe on occasion
my domicile is my ashtray
and maybe I am fallen
low into the snares of harlotry
and maybe put me down
for pagan idolatry
just to round things off
any half held notion
in an unkempt world
is ok by me.
For this poet, the exploration of place also involves meditation on the species that populate them. Poems throughout the collection are infused with plant and animal life, and several touch on the human desire for the “good life continuing.” This sentiment is made particularly lovely in “Written on the Back on a Topo Map of the Alaska Range” as the speaker, ascending a glacier, contemplates an Athabascan jawbone found at the site, and how easy it would be to die in that unforgiving landscape:
…A number of easy ways to do it.
To lose the way, to stumble, to slip.
It is possible to be taken down the throat of ice.
Possible to be taken by other animals.
To be taken ill. To be taken.
The poem guides us to a thoughtful conclusion where, like the speaker, we revel in being alive, in the opportunity to feel small in the vastness of tundra and time:
Maybe that’s what I love about this country—
It keeps offering me chances to feel tiny
and I keep taking them.
“Looking for the absence of wildlife,” one of Sanderson’s more overtly philosophical and humorous pieces, considers the human delusion of control. We see the narrator realizing that she’s subject to the whims of the universe no matter how hard she tries to wrangle, that her “waiting for nothing” mode will one day be “answered” by the universe:
here’s your nothing
and here’s some nowhere
to go with it.
Several poems in the collection consider not only how dialect and language function as indelible aspects of the experience of place, but also as cornerstones of identity. “Language of the old People” and “Turkiye” explicitly call our attention to words and phrases while “My Love Is to Me as Water in the Desert” and "In the Temple of the Bulrushes” reveal essences of biblical phrasing from the poet’s Kentucky upbringing as she evokes her later edenic experience in riparian pockets of the Southwest.
Sanderson’s language is nuanced, precise, and palpable, and her voice is engaging; consequently, the big questions come to life on the page. Ok By Me (Stephen F. Austin University Press) is a book that employs place as a springboard for considering homeland and origins, antiquity and myth, love and loss. It is an ode to place, surely, but it is also an ode to friends, lovers, and family, to the stories imbued in artifacts. And it is still much more than this.
Sheila Sanderson’s work has appeared in journals such as Arts & Letters, Cloudbank, Hubbub, Miramar, Nimrod, North American Review, Room, Southern Indiana Review, Southern Poetry Review, and Spillway as well as in anthologies such as Language Lessons (Third Man Press) and One for the Money (Lynx House Press). She is the author of Keeping Even and Ok By Me. She is the editor of Alligator Juniper and teaches at Prescott College.