M.I.T., Seattle University, Teaching, 1993
B.A., University of Washington, English with emphasis in Creative Writing, 1990
Derek Sheffield was born in the Willamette Valley of Oregon and grew up there and on the shores of the Salish Sea. After spending eight years in Seattle and earning an MFA in poetry from the University of Washington, he lived briefly in Oregon’s high desert before moving to central Washington, near Leavenworth.
Since 2003, he has worked as a professor of English at Wenatchee Valley College, where, in partnership with biologist Dr. Dan Stephens, he teaches Northwest Nature Writing, a learning community where the precision of poetry melds with the excitement of science. Thanks to support from the Spring Creek Project, he has been able to work alongside many devoted scientists and artists during field residencies at Loowit-Mount St. Helens and the H. J. Andrews Experimental Forest. He is a hiker, birder, fisher, forest bather, and father. He takes much delight in the fact that his daughters know many of their fellow beings and are often making their own poems and paintings when they aren’t assembling twigs, leaves, and grasses into nests and boats for Fairies.
Author of the poetry collections Through the Second Skin, finalist for the Washington State Book Award, and Not for Luck, selected by Mark Doty for the Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize, and coeditor of Dear America: Letters of Hope, Habitat, Defiance, and Democracy and Cascadia Field Guide: Art, Ecology, Poetry, he serves as poetry editor of Terrain.org, the world’s oldest online journal devoted to place-centered art and literature.
How did you discover Western?
Through faculty and students of the graduate program in Poetry and Nature Writing.
What are some of the highlights of your career?
- Twice being asked by the students of Wenatchee Valley College to give the address at their commencement
- Winning the Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize judged by Mark Doty
- Winning the James Hearst Poetry Prize judged by Li-Young Lee
- Winning the Hazel Lipa Environmental Chapbook Award judged by Debra Marquart
- Winning the Excellence in Teaching Award a record five times at Wenatchee Valley College
- Winning the Linda Schultz Herzog Faculty Member of the Year Award at Wenatchee Valley College by a vote of my colleagues
- Winning the Sparrow Prize in Poetry judged by Nick Neely
- Being awarded fellowships and grants from Artist Trust, the Spring Creek Project, the Sustainable Arts Foundation, the Allied Arts Foundation
- Special Mention in the Pushcart Prize Anthology
- Giving the Keynote Address at the 2022 Leavenworth Spring Birdfest
- Birding on two separate occasions with J. Drew Lanham and David Sibley
- Being invited in 2013 to become the Poetry Editor of Terrain.org and getting to work with the beautiful human known as Simmons Buntin
What most excites you about your field?
I write because the words of others saved me in the long blue silence of my childhood and making poems for me has come to be about living more deeply and widely. Reading the poems of others and making my own is about expanding the available beauty and meaning of life amidst all the losses we must face. Writing is redemptive, individualistic, and the process puts me in touch with a mysterious aspect of being. Call it what you will–God, muse, imagination. It is like nothing else I’ve ever encountered.
What is your favorite thing about the Gunnison Valley?
Haven’t yet been, but I hear great things!
- CRWR 694. Thesis Mentoring. (6 Credits)
- CRWR 634. Poetry Now. (6 Credits)
- Cascadia Field Guide: Art, Ecology, Poetry. (Mountaineers, 2023)
- Not for Luck (Michigan State University, 2021)
- Dear America: Letters of Hope, Habitat, Defiance, and Democracy. (Trinity, 2020)
- Through the Second Skin. (Orchises Press, 2013)
- A Revised Account of the West. (Flyway/Iowa State University, 2008)
- A Mouthpiece of Thumbs. Working Signs Series. (Blue Begonia Press, 2000)
- Teaching with the Internet: Putting Teachers before Technology. (Resolution Business Press, 1995)
- Poems in various anthologies and magazines including Poetry, Orion, High Country News, The Southern Review, and The Georgia Review
External Professional Affiliations
- Wenatchee Valley College
- Central Washington University
- Northwest Institute of Literary Arts