Sheryl Louise Rivett Image

Sheryl Louise Rivett holds an MA in creative nonfiction writing from Johns Hopkins University and an MFA in fiction from George Mason University. 

  • Bio

    I reach for the edges of myself, searching blindly for the places where I begin. I bend toward my ancestors, examining their faces lined in sorrow and joy and all of the small moments that life leaves upon a face. I spin in a dark cosmic space filled with tiny pinpricks of light, like fireflies on a lazy summer night, blinking beside me. Where do I begin? Do I begin on the cold night in January when my maternal great-grandmother gave birth to my grandmother, Louise? With the passage of her maternal cells on that cold Missouri night? Or do I begin when another generation of those cells passed between my grandmother and mother and then another generation of cells on to me? In this cosmic spinning space, I see every person I’ve encountered who has left gentle thumbprints on my soul. My hands stretch through the darkness where I feel the cold winters of my childhood. I smell the salty Atlantic air of the beach vacations I’ve taken with my children and taste the sweet syrup of my great-aunt-Annie’s blueberry pie. I spin in gentle circles as I gather the truths that make up the whole of who I am.

    If I choose to begin at the time when I had language to make sense of my life, I would say that my life began in the Midwest, in the northern industrial mid-size city, Rockford. Most of my early memories include the Rock River, gentling lapping against its grassy banks, flowing toward the Mississippi with a lazy and meandering pace, or white and frozen beneath the winter sky. The river is what I first learned to fear. Living only a block from its banks, our parents warned us in strong whispers of accidental drownings and cracked, broken ice. To never, ever trust that it could be fully frozen, to beware on warmer days of its hidden undercurrents.

    I spent my childhood ice skating, canoeing, and camping. Summers were long lazy days of tennis and reading and pretend-play in the woods behind my parents’ home. As a very young child, when I was first given language, I lost myself in the worlds of my father’s dramatic bedtime stories. By day I spun imaginary play in my room, story after story played out on a bed covered in a yellow quilt dotted with purple blossoms, or in my closet with high ceilings and a bright sunny window; stuffed animals and dolls lined up beside me, important characters in my play. When I gained the ability to write with pencil on paper, I began to write down my first stories. A poet, my mother nurtured my writing spirit that waited to be tamed in elementary school. I wrote and illustrated story after story until the librarian of our small neighborhood school gently suggested that I take a break, my stories cased in cardboard and contact paper stacked high on the library shelves behind her.

    And then reason took root. I was suddenly an adolescent frankly assessing the real world. How would I support myself? I put down my paintbrush, packed away my charcoal drawings and shoeboxes of short stories and novels, and left home to pursue a degree in Communication on the East Coast. A practical degree. An employable future.

    I’ve worked in human resources, in training and quality improvement; in IT as a technical writer and editor; in healthcare, as a lay educator, support group facilitator, and volunteer supervisor; in grassroots organizing in women’s health; and in education, as a creative writing and English teacher, and collaborator for a college level textbook.

    The most important work, though, has been the raising of my four daughters. Four more beginnings. More passing of maternal memory, of maternal cells, a silent language: microchimerism. The continuation of the legacy of the women who have come before me. Every day I feel that legacy acutely and only hope that my small part in the chain of cells will mean something.

    And so now, my life has taken me back to the paintbrush, the charcoal, and the writing pen. Life has worked out. I’m employable. I’ve faced down the practical. And I’ve welcomed back the passions that give me the most joy: writing and visual art. As I watch my daughters grow into young girls, young women, I feel even more acutely the importance of joy and living with passion. If for nothing else, I hope to give them a sense of what a woman can do when following the bliss that can only occur when you do what you love.

  • Publications and Interviews

    Publications:
    • Mothers & Midwives: Women’s Stories of Childbirth (2005)
    • March 2010 | Hope is in the Possibilities |This I Believe
    • Summer 2010 | An Afternoon with Marsden | Midwifery Today, Issue 94
    • October 2012 | Dreamy Reality | Outside In Literary & Travel Magazine, Issue 7
    • May 2012 | Nothing Fancy | Penn Union (print only)
    • April 2013| I am Woman | So to Speak
    • April 2013| What? You Birth at Home AND You’re a Feminist? | So to Speak
    • September 2013 | Author Elizabeth Huergo on Feminism, Writing, and the Experience of Exile | So to Speak
    • November 2013 | Award-winning Joy Harjo on the Binds of Culture and More | So to Speak
    • November 2013 | Feminist Poetry, Exhibits, Performance Art, Academia, Publishing, and Laundry (Interview with Heid E. Erdrich)| So to Speak
    • Spring/Summer 2014 | Meeting Sylvia Plath | Quail Bell Magazine
    • February 2014 | Certain and Complete | (T)here: Writings on Returnings
    • February 2014| Representations of the Feminine Body and Psyche: An Interview with Lili Almog | So to Speak
    • May 2014 | Midwife Jennie Joseph on Race, Power, and Changing Birth in America| So to Speak
    • November 2014 | Lyme Disease: Not for the Faint of Heart | YouShare
    • July 2016 | Traction | YouShare
    • August 2016 | Nothing Fancy |The Manifest Station
    Interviews:
    • Self-Reliance: A Blog about Writing | An Interview with Sheryl Louise Rivett
    • Interviews with Extraordinary Normal Folks, BrandiDawnHenderson.com | Sheryl Louise Rivett

Novels

Asylum

Finding Evelyn

Evie is a young woman with a complicated past. Taking a leave of absence from her job in Washington D.C. after her mother is committed to an asylum, Evie returns to her childhood home in Nelson County, Virginia, where racial tensions are high. Family
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Painting

Natural Forces

Anton Nixdorf travels from Breslau, Prussia to Boston, Massachusetts by ship in 1850. Eighteen years old, recently graduated with a medical degree, he finds himself thrust into a confusing world of idealism, inequality, and shifting allegiances. As a
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Non-Fiction

Pilgrim, a memoir

Bending the boundaries of form, Pilgrim traces the author’s journey to discover the truth about her maternal grandmother, Louise. Lyrical prose, visual art, and family stories interweave with the author’s present-day quest to tell the story of a granddaughter’s complicated relationship with her grandmother.

Misperceptions, a memoir

Misperceptions is the story of evolutionary bacteria, family history, geography, and medical crisis. A hybrid memoir that braids short poetic prose, medical research, cultural analysis, and personal narrative, Misperceptions is the heart-wrenching story of neurological illness and the emotional dark corners into which illness takes the author - corners that include painful childhood memories, and, finally, a deeper understanding of her mother.

The Hidden Life of Us: Memoirs of illness (working title), a collection

An anthology of stories, edited by Sheryl Louise Rivett, and photographs by Michele Mott Rowland, The Hidden Life of Us is a collection of stories that tell of everyday life for people coping with chronic illness, a fast growing problem in modern medicine. Illuminating, inspiring, unforgettable stories.

Open submissions and guidelines will be available soon on Submittable.

Background Image courtesy of Audie Sumaray Photography

Traction

The Oxford English dictionary defines traction as, “The action of drawing or pulling a thing over a surface, especially a road or track,” or, “The extent to which a product, ide
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In Search of the Unknown

I’ve just completed a writing residency at the Vermont Studio Center, a two-week get-away in Northern Vermont, where I lived in community with approximately fifty visual artists
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Giving Myself Permission Not to Write

I’m in the midst of a two-week writing residency and I’ve given myself permission not to write. Unlike the everyday reality of life back home in Virginia, where childcare or fre
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  • Mourid Barghouti

    A Palestinian poet and memoirist, Barghouti crafts his nonfiction with poetic artistry. Each line is breathtaking, a meditation. His memoir I Saw Ramallah is best read slowly, so that every page can be savored like a sip of vintage wine. When I read his work, I often pull myself away from the page just to say, “Wow. Breathtaking.” His generous spirit pours mysticism and truth into every word. (More)
  • Joan Didion

    A true master. One of the greats. I have enormous respect for Didion's career and her writing. My worn copy of Slouching Toward Bethlehem will always remain close to my desk. (More)
  • Annie Dillard

    Master of the semi-colon—poet, essayist and naturalist. Sometimes disorienting, always illuminating, Dillard's prose challenges me to be a better reader and to pay more attention to the world around me. Her gift in translating science has been a guiding inspiration for me with several of my projects. (More) 
  • Anne Enright

    Instinctual. Risky. Edgy. Enright delves into character and story with courage and a willingness to cast aside tried and true methods of storytelling. Her lyrical and otherworldly prose always inspires me. (More)
  • Louise Erdrich

    Erdrich has an uncanny sense of linguistic musicality and plot. The two intertwine to produce memorable stories and characters. Erdrich reminds me to pay attention to metaphor and to fully embrace a story as it’s meant to be told. (More)
  • Alice Hoffman

    Hoffman is a master storyteller who blends myth and magic and history seamlessly. More than any other fiction writer, Hoffman inspires me to jump into story and take emotional risks. Her books have often been food for my soul and her works of fiction make me excited about writing. (More)
  • John Irving

    I discovered Irving’s books when I was an undergraduate student and devoured them like candy. They still have a place on my bookshelf today. His novels read as if they are oral stories, which have been honed and polished through many retellings around a hearth. As if he is a story bard of old. Unparalleled in his ability to use expository language, capture irony, and create memorable characters, his books read as if the words have just tumbled naturally from his mind onto the page at the moment that you are reading them; although I suspect that a great deal more work goes into his writing. “The building of the architecture of a novel—the craft of it—is something I never tire of.” – John Irving (More)
  • Mary Karr

    Karr reminds me to take out the razor and let a vein. Unflinching honesty, narrative instinct, sentence rhythm and cadence. She's also absolutely hilarious and often profound on Facebook. Check her out. (More)
  • Alice Munro

    Munro crafts stories in the way in which women tell stories to one another. She takes risks in short stories that most modern writers are afraid to take. Following no rules except ones of her own making, she examines everyday characters in unlikely ways, willing to craft stories that shift in time and memory, that move in an emotional line more closely aligned with a lived life than traditional linear, plotted fiction. Her stories illuminate everyday characters, showing the reader how extraordinary humanity can be. (More)
  • Flannery O’Connor

    Place, character, God, and fate. I’m in awe of O'Connor's story writing ability and of her prolific career during such a short life. She created unbelievable tales that poked at the flaws and prejudices of her characters. (More)
  • Michael Ondaatje

    The English Patient remains one of the most poignant and poetic works of fiction. The figurative language in the novel leaves me breathless and wanting more. More of his sentences, more of his images, and just More. It’s truly a work of art that I will continue to study. (More)
Other writers of note who have left an impression: Elizabeth Strout, James Baldwin, Sylvia Plath, Mary Oliver, Joy Harjo, Toni Morrison, Geraldine Brooks, Julie Otsuka, and many others.
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