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Nobody Rich or Famous
A Family Memoir
By Richard Shelton
288 pp. / 6.00 x 9.00 / 2016
Paper (978-0-8165-3399-2)
Cloth (978-0-8165-3400-5)
Related Interest
  - Western Americana / Regional Interest
  - Biography

Once in a while, a book comes along that redefines the concept of family. Frank McCourt did it with Angela's Ashes; Annie Dillard did it with An American Childhood. In Nobody Rich or
A quietly profound memoir.


His easy, comfortable tone is inviting, and he shares the scandals as well as the triumphs of his colorful family.


Richard Shelton doesn't so much tug on the heartstrings as play an entire set upon them.

—Foreword Reviews

A hard and honest memoir of a life filled with brutalities.

—Tucson Weekly

Nobody Rich or Famous is a triumph! One of the best memoirs I have ever read, written with understated grace and mesmerizing power. Do not miss this shining light of a book.

—Naomi Shihab Nye, author of Transfer

A gritty book, with several unflattering portraits of an alcoholic father, a physically abusive older brother, and the rough-and-tumble life in the '30s and '40s. But there is also the miracle of close observation, of tender feelings, and the poet who grew like an odd flower between the cracks.

—Michael Hogan, Emeritus Humanities Chair, American School Foundation of Guadalajara

Nobody Rich or Famous is a beautiful testament to the power of Richard Shelton's gifts as a writer and human being. Part memoir, part social history, part prose poem, he has made a wise and astute portrait of his family growing up in the hard-rock seams of Idaho. Pampered was not a word known to the Sheltons; ingenuity was. Through his brutal and at times sideways insights, we see the human family more fully.

—Terry Tempest Williams, author of The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America's National Parks

, author Richard Shelton (b. 1933) immerses us in the hardscrabble lives of his Boise, Idaho, clan during the 1930s and '40s. Using a framework of journals, road trips, and artful storytelling, Shelton traces three generations of women. We meet his mother, Hazel, a model of western respectability, who carefully dresses in her finest clothes before walking into a bar and emptying a loaded handgun in the general direction of her husband. We meet his great-grandmother, Josephine, who homesteads a sod shanty and dies too young on the Kansas prairie. We follow his grandmother, Charlotte, as she grows from a live-in servant girl to a fiddle-playing schoolteacher who burns through two marriages before taking up with the iceman.

Known for his storytelling, Shelton crafts a tale of poverty and its attendant sorrows: alcoholism, neglect, and abuse. But the tenacity of the human spirit shines through. This is an epic tale of Steinbeckian proportions, but it is not fiction. This is memoir in its finest tradition, illuminating today's cultural chasm between the haves and have-nots. In the author's words, Nobody Rich or Famous is "the story of a family and how it got that way."

Listen to Richard Shelton Talk About "Nobody Rich or Famous" on Arizona Public Media

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