The personal writing of Nicole Sheets radiates a gracious humor and an eye for the telling detail that opens up a world. Hers is nonfiction that reads a bit like fiction, in that the voice feels stylish and controlled; her facts and lines of dialogue work with wonderful economy, creating character, mood, and story all at once. Beneath the polished surface, her writing also comes from a warm heart: the elegant choices all add up to genuine, emotional pieces. Her essay from Image issue 73, on a lifelong friend’s struggle with Crohn’s disease, is a complex, subtle portrait of a remarkable young woman. In her friend Christy, we meet someone who seems thoroughly to inhabit an evangelical subculture, but who also stands out from it. She seems enviably idealistic, sincere, and open-hearted—enviable even as we watch her suffer terribly. Without ever telling us to love Christy, Sheets makes it very hard not to. The nonfiction writer is necessarily a character in her own work. Here Sheets chooses to keep herself mostly in the background, as a continual minor presence: she has the health and freedom Christy does not. The contrast between the two young women, and their living, breathing friendship, make a way into the story for those of us who are not fighting a life-threatening illness. A wise, funny, and sharp-eyed young writer, Nicole Sheets is one to watch.
Nicole Sheets is an assistant professor at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. She taught at Whitworth’s Costa Rica campus for the Fall 2012 semester. Her Spanish is astonishingly intermediate. Her work has appeared in Tampa Review, Mid-American Review, Cream City Review, Geez Magazine, DIAGRAM, Western Humanities Review, Hotel Amerika,and in the anthologies Permanent Vacation (Bona Fide) and Jesus Girls: True Tales of Growing Up Female and Evangelical (Cascade). She is an alto in her church choir, and taller than most of the tenors. She blogs about style for a women’s travel company (http://wanderlustandlipstick.com/blogs/wanderchic/) and is the web editor for Rock & Sling (www.rockandsling.com).
I have trouble sitting still sometimes, which may explain why blogging and audio storytelling projects are where most of my creative energy goes. Blog posts are short, and I can only edit audio stuff in hour-long chunks, or I start to make dumb mistakes. I’ve been creating podcasts, a mix of interviews and student readings, which open up another venue to get good writing in wider circulation. Part of what draws me to this form is its overlap with creative nonfiction; the ways interesting threads can be spliced together. And editing the interviews allows me to feel like a journalist and a storyteller and Ira Glass.
You can listen to the first few episodes here. Despite their uneven production values, I’m stupidly proud of them.
I’m also working on nonfiction that combines two of my writing obsessions: my upbringing in a fundamentalist Baptist church and my love of clothes. These collide more often than one might think. Take church camp swimwear, for example, or my early 90’s cache of evangelical t-shirts. Or the cassock and surplice I wear in the choir at St John’s, and the way it feels like a cousin of my poofy polyester academic regalia. I’d like for these short nonfiction pieces to be interchangeable, so the manuscript would be like a prose closet.