Richard Shelton’s new memoir is not about him.
It is about three women.
In “Nobody Rich or Famous: A Family Memoir,” Shelton evocatively shares the stories of three generations:
- Josephine Cummings Adams, his great-grandmother, who homesteads a sod shanty and dies on the Kansas prairie.
- Charlotte Adams Beech, his grandmother, who grows from a live-in servant girl to fiddle-playing schoolteacher.
- And his mother, Hazel Josephine Shelton, who carefully dresses in her finest clothes before walking into a bar and emptying a loaded handgun in the general direction of her husband.
Shelton will read a selection from “Nobody Rich or Famous” at a book release event slated for 4-6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1, at the University of Arizona Poetry Center.
Shelton is a poet, author, and Regents’ Professor emeritus at the UA. He established the Creative Writer’s Workshop in the Arizona state prisons and is a former director of the Creative Writing Program and Poetry Center at the UA.
The three women kept journals, which storyteller Shelton uses as the framework for the three distinct yet integrated tales of his family and “how it got that way.”
Using stories to share history, as he did in his award-winning memoir “Going Back to Bisbee,” Shelton tells a series of stories divided into three sections, one for each woman.
Shelton says the book, told in his elegant yet accessible prose and backed by research, explores the complexities of families living at the edge of poverty.
The book reflects people who need charity but are too proud to accept it, and the effects of poverty, such as alcoholism and strained relationships, Shelton says.
“It’s a tribute to survival,” Shelton says.
Shelton got the journals after his mother died, but says he held off writing the book until certain other people died because he did not want to offend.
His brother, for example. Shelton says his brother comes across badly in the book, but not as bad as it could have been.
Many of the stories have already been told in some of his poems, which are scattered among his 11 books of poetry.
It might be interesting to bob between the story in narration form and the poem, he says. He might read both an excerpt from the book and the corresponding poem during Saturday’s event.
The overall message is positive, Shelton says. And a strain of hope runs through the entire book.
“You don’t have to be rich and famous to be interesting,” Shelton says.