Richard W. Shelton is an Arizona writer, poet, and emeritus Regents Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Arizona. He was born in Boise, Idaho in 1933.
Shelton has published 11 books of poetry and is former director of the UA Poetry Center. In 1974, he established a writers workshop in the Arizona State Prison at Florence. That program, over the years, has expanded into many prison workshops, four of which are currently operating with the support of the Lannan Foundation. He wrote, "Crossing the Yard: Thirty Years as a Prison Volunteer" about the experience. Dozens of books by graduates of this program have been published.
Since 1956, Shelton lived in Southern Arizona where he is a Regents Professor (emeritus) at the University of Arizona. He has been director of the Creative Writing Program and the University of Arizona Poetry Center, a Faculty Fellow, and a Flinn Scholar mentor.
From 1980 to 1982, he was one of the three judges of the Lamont Poetry Award of the Academy of American Poets. Shelton served two terms as president of the Associated Writing Programs (AWP) and was National Honorary Chancellor of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies. In 1991, he and his wife, Lois Shelton, were joint recipients of the Governor’s Award for support of the arts in Arizona. In 2000, Shelton received a $100,000 Completion Grant from the Lannan Foundation. In 2006, he received the University of Arizona's Henry and Phyllis Koffler Prize for outstanding accomplishment in teaching, and, with his wife Lois, the Arizona Book Festival's inaugural Arizona Literary Treasure Award.
Governor Janet Napolitano proclaimed April 22, 2006, "Richard Shelton Day" to recognize his accomplishments as a writer, his service to the Poetry Center and the University, and his mentorship of fledgling writers both inside and outside the University.
In The Saturday Review, critic Alastair Reid said that Shelton's poetry "...stands out in its stark, understated ironies. Shelton is a poet of the Southwest and his language is as dry and bony as his desert landscape...the sharp economy of his line, his beautiful equilibrium of manner and matter, already make him an important poet."
His first book, The Tattooed Desert, won the International Poetry Forum's United States Award in 1970. His fourth book, The Bus to Veracruz, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. He has received two National Endowment for the Arts Writer’s Fellowships (one in poetry and one in nonfiction) and three Borestone Mountain Awards, including First Award in Borestone Mountain’s Best Poems of 1971. In all, Shelton has published twelve books or chapbooks of poetry, and his poems and essays have appeared in more than 200 magazines and literary journals (including The New Yorker, Poetry, Harper’s, The Atlantic, The Paris Review, Kayak, The American Poetry Review, and The Antioch Review), and have been translated into Spanish, French, Swedish, Polish and Japanese. National Public Radio and the British Broadcasting Corporation have featured his work, and Shelton has read at colleges and universities throughout the country. American composers have set many of his poems to music.
Shelton's first book of creative nonfiction, Going Back to Bisbee, won the Western States Book Award in 1992 and was honored as a "One Book Arizona." The book has sold nearly 50,000 copies and is in its 12th printing at the University of Arizona Press. In October 2007, the Press released his second book of nonfiction, Crossing the Yard.
In 1974, Shelton established, under the auspices of the Arizona Commission on the Arts, a Creative Writer’s Workshop at the Arizona State Prison. In 2016, the program expanded to also include maximum security federal prison. Many books of poetry and prose by the men in these workshops have been published, including the anthology Do Not Go Gentle. Since 1991, these workshops have been supported by grants from the Lannan Foundation. Past and present members of the workshop continue to publish poetry and prose in dozens of journals and have also published books with, most recently, Mercury House, the University of Arkansas Press, and the University of Arizona Press.
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Richard Shelton, January 7, 1970. Photo by LaVerne Harrell Clark.