Aurelie Sheehan, author and creative writing professor at the University of Arizona, whose acclaimed work included novels, short story and prose-poem collections of her own unique design, died August 4, 2023, at home in Tucson. She left this world peacefully with her family present after an eight-month battle with brain cancer. She was 60 years old.
Ms. Sheehan was born in Verdun, France, on June 16, 1963, to Laurence Sheehan, then serving in the U.S. Army, and Valerie Harms. She was the oldest of two children. The family returned to the United States when Ms. Sheehan was young and settled in Connecticut. She graduated from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, with a Bachelor of Arts degree (1984) and The City College of CUNY in New York (1990) where she earned a Master of Arts degree.
Her early years included stints as a locker room attendant, waitress in a floating fish restaurant, legal secretary, and receptionist at a consumer loan agency, all of which would inform her fiction. Ms. Sheehan later worked as an assistant editor at Child Magazine, coordinator of the artist and writers residency program at the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming, and spent three years running the Poetry Series at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC. She also taught at Sheridan College, City College, and Johns Hopkins University.
In 2000, Ms. Sheehan’s academic career brought her to the University of Arizona in Tucson in where she spent 24 years, rising to the position of full professor and spending her last four-and-a-half years as head of the English Department.
Ms. Sheehan’s published works include the novels The Anxiety of Everyday Objects and History Lesson for Girls, the short story collections Jack Kerouac Is Pregnant and Demigods on Speedway, the novella This Blue, and two books of shorter prose pieces: Jewelry Box: A Collection of Histories and Once into the Night.
Her individual stories, essays and poems appeared in a wide variety of publications from The New York Times to Gargoyle. She is the winner of numerous literary awards, including a Pushcart Prize, a Jack Kerouac Literary Award, a Camargo Fellowship, and an Artists Projects Award from the Arizona Commission on the Arts.
A lover of all creatures four-legged or finned, Ms. Sheehan said if she hadn’t become a teacher she might have been a veterinarian. She was an enthusiastic if intermittent gardener, an avid movie-goer, a dutiful swimmer, a painter, and a lifelong, voracious reader who ended nearly every day with a book in her hands.
Ms. Sheehan was preceded in death by her father. She is survived by her husband of 25 years, Reed Karaim, daughter Alexandra Karaim, mother Valerie Harms, brother Alex (Pippa) Sheehan, and many in-laws, nieces, and nephews. She also leaves behind an extended community of colleagues and current and former students, who were always her greatest source of happiness and reward as a teacher.
Gifts to the University of Arizona Foundation Aurelie Sheehan Memorial Scholarship in Creative Writing honor her memory.