The writer started with a scene. He created his own setting and his own characters around the wholly attentive listeners. Looking from each of my shoulders, the audience had reacted with proper sensitively and biology – the gallery cleared without hardly a dry eye. The writer’s stories were tenderly real.
Creative Writing Program Reading Series featured CSU alumnus, writer and journalist Jim Sheeler last night in the Hatton Gallery. Sheeler is an acclaimed author of “Obit: Inspiring Stories of Ordinary People Who Led Extraordinary Lives”, a narrative nonfiction book of collected stories of the true people who were once a blip in a small newspaper’s obituaries. The audience was very receptive and helped create a somber, yet inspiring atmosphere. Sheeler shared with the attendance his “key” to the book; a background in investigative journalism he learned right here at CSU.
One in attendance was retired CSU professor Garrett Ray. In the late 1980s when Sheeler studied journalism at CSU, Ray offered an advanced reporting class. This is the beginning of a narrative about Sheeler’s success.
“Journalism was and still is a hackneyed form of writing,” Ray said. “I told my students to look for the story behind the story.” He continued to explain how his own experience in writing obituaries taught him that, “each person has a hobby, a job, some unique feature that makes them people. The families have a memory.”
Sheeler took this advice and ran with it, said Ray.
And today Sheeler still follows the key. His feature article “Final Salute” ran in The Rocky Mountain News in November 2005. This article won him and his photographer colleague a Pulitzer Prize in different categories in 2006. At his reading late Thursday, Sheeler read from his recent book release and also from an upcoming book by the same title of his award-winning article. This future release is scheduled to be in stores May 2008, by Penguin Press.
His incredible journey sifting through the unforgotten lives of his characters is truly moving. Sheeler researched the characters in his narrative by looking at family photos albums, walking into childhood rooms and listening to the families that lost a loved one. Sheeler assures his readers that this is easier than one might think.
“The families want to tell a loved one’s story.” Sheeler stated. His narrative appeal spun from a journalist’s assignment makes for a poignant, authentic story.
Sheeler spoke of his characters and their families at length. Impulsively introducing his reading, he stated, “They take you places – emotional places, philosophical places. You take the time to touch the things they touched. Let it touch you back.”