Remembering The Indomitable Betty Shiflett


Several years ago I had the pleasure of having a workshop class with the extraordinary Betty Shiflett. With her silver hair and slim figure, she had a certain Joan Didionesque quality to her, a sort of steely coolness I hoped one day to adapt. I remember the day I found out she was teaching my workshop class for that semester, I threw my hat up in the air Mary Tyler Moore style after leaving the fiction department, I finally made it! I remember thinking, I finally have a class with the indomitable Betty Shiflett! 

That semester was one of my favorites. She had a keen sense of literature, and her pedagogy on story form was organic and provocative.

Today, the Chicago literary community mourns the loss of an incredible woman. On Saturday, February 6th, 2016, Betty Shiflett passed away due to respiratory failure. In her lifetime, Betty did an extraordinary amount, including (but not limited to) helping form the English/Writing Department at Columbia College Chicago, the Fiction Writing Department, and exalting Columbia into a well-known liberal arts college. She is survived by her husband, John Schultz, and her son, Shawn Shiflett.

Below is a statement from the Schultz/Shiflett family:

It is with great sadness that we must announce the passing of teacher and writer, Betty Shiflett, on Saturday, February 6, 2016. The cause of death was respiratory failure. Betty began her teaching career at Columbia College Chicago in 1967 and retired in 1994. She continued to teach at Columbia as a Professor Emeritus for many years after that, and then finally as an Adjunct faculty member. She was instrumental in helping to found the Writing/English Department in fall 1967, and then some years later, the Fiction Writing Department as well. During Betty’s long and illustrious tenure as a teacher and writer, she touched the countless lives of students and colleagues alike. Her stories and creative non-fiction pieces were published in Life Magazine, Evergreen Review, F Magazine, as well as in other literary journals. Her plays were produced at the Body Politic, the Home Theater, the Bay Area Playwrights Festival, and other venues. She had that rare ability to connect people from all walks of life to the unique and compelling strengths of their voices on the page. She taught using the acclaimed Story Workshop® method, originated by John Schultz, and was a firm proponent of a diverse-student, classroom experience, believing strongly that all human being have stories that are worthy of telling and writing. She played a key role in the year-by-year development of Columbia College Chicago into a nationally renowned arts college. The wake will be at Hallowell & James Funerals on February 12, 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. (see address below). The funeral will be at Riverside Presbyterian Church on Saturday, February 13, 11:00 a.m. All are welcome. In lieu of flowers or gifts, please consider donating to the Schultz/Shiflett Scholarship Fund, Columbia College Chicago.

Hallowell & James Countryside
• 1025 West 55th Street
• Countryside, Illinois 60525
• (708) 352-6500
• Driving Directions

Riverside Presbyterian Church
116 Barrypoint Road
Riverside, IL 60546
(708) 447-1520