Mary Ylvisaker Nilsen, writer, teacher, publisher, and spiritual director, has a graduate degree in Literary Non-Fiction from the University of Iowa and another in Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School. In addition, she is a certified Enneagram instructor and a spiritual director.
Mary Nilsen has published Christian education materials through Winston Press and Augsburg Fortress and articles in a variety of journals, including The Lutheran,The Other Side, and Word and World. Her first novel, When A Bough Breaks: Mending the Family Tree, published by Hazelden and Harper and Row, traces a family's journey through a family treatment program after discovering their son was addicted. She is listed in the International Authors and Writers Who's Who, 10th, 11th, and 12th editions.
In addition, Nilsen has spent years teaching prose style, metaphor, fiction and non-fiction writing at The University of Iowa, and week-long writing courses for the Iowa Summer Writing Festival and in her home city, Des Moines, Iowa. Mary has brought her passion for teaching literary writing to various seminaries including Luther Seminary, Columbia Seminary, The Graduate Theological Union, and Princeton. Currently she teaches "Words that Sing I" and "Words that Sing II" at the Collegeville Institute. These courses focus on advanced literary skills. The text for these courses, Words that Sing: Composing Lyrical Prose, is now available.
Books available through this website and/or Amazon.com are Beyond the Dead End: Letters to My Father (a memoir by Mary Ylvisaker Nilsen), A Time for Peace: Daily Meditations for Twelve-Step Living(by Mary Ylvisaker Nilsen), In the Hollow of God's Hand (by Roy Nilsen),Nude Truths: An Odyssey in Poetry, Painting, and Prose (artwork by Kristi Ylvisaker, text by Mary Ylvisaker Nilsen), The Blessing of Feelings(text by Erika Nilsen, photography by Mary Ylvisaker Nilsen). For Everything a Season: 75 Blessings for Daily Life was co-authored by Nilsen with her family.
Nilsen has also written a book-length personal portrait of her mother titled, The Power of One. She and her sister, Kristi Ylvisaker, collaborated on the art exhibit and subsequent book, Nude Truths: An Odyssey in Poetry, Painting, and Prose.
Nilsen and her husband, Rev. Roy C. Nilsen are the parents of five grown children.
1500 Crown Colony Court, Suite 540
Des Moines, IA 50315
Mary Ylvisaker Nilsen
Born October 1, 1938, Fargo, ND
Mother of five adult children
M.T.S. Harvard Divinity School, May 1994.
M.A. The University of Iowa, Literary Non-Fiction Writing, May 1985.
Creative Writing and History of the English Language. University of Minnesota 1975-77.
B. A. Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota, 1960.
Nude Truths: An Odyssey in Poetry, Painting, and Prose. In this innovative art exhibit, lines from the poetry of Denise Levertov have been used to inspire 24 large paintings by Kristi Ylvisaker with prose responses by Mary Ylvisaker Nilsen. Created in 2004, the exhibit was displayed at 19 churches, colleges and seminaries from coast to coast prior to it being broken up in 2011.
Words that Sing: Composing Lyrical Prose, by Mary Ylvisaker Nilsen. Published by Zion Publishing, 2012.
Beyond the Dead End: Letters to My Father, a memoir by Mary Ylvisaker Nilsen, drawings by Kristi Ylvisaker.
Published by Zion Publishing, 2010.
Nude Truths: An Odyssey in Poetry, Painting, and Prose, poetry by Denise Levertov, painting by Kristi Ylvisaker, and prose by Mary Ylvisaker Nilsen, Zion Publishing, 2007.
The Blessing of Feelings, text by Erika Nilsen, photography by Mary Nilsen, Zion Publishing, 2007.
In the Hollow of God's Hand, by Roy C. Nilsen, ed. by Mary Ylvisaker Nilsen, Zion Publishing, 2004.
The Power of One: A Portrait of Marie Sletvold Ylvisaker. Zion Publishing, 2001.
For Everything A Season: 75 Blessings for Daily Life, by the Nilsen Family, Zion Publishing, 1999. Reprinted by Vibrant Ministries, Bloomington, MN.
A Time for Peace: Daily Meditations for Twelve-Step Living. Iowa City, IA: Zion Publishing, 1990.
When A Bough Breaks: Mending the Family Tree. A documentary/novel. Hazelden, 1985; Audio tape reproduction, Hazelden, 1986; reprint, Harper and Row, 1987.
Our Family Shares Advent. Winston Press, 1980.
"A Feminist who Loves Housework," dsm Women's issue, Fall 2011.
"Breath Prayers: Claiming God's Spirit in the Moment," Faith@Work, Winter 2003.
"Imagination for Transformation," Word and World, Summer 1995.
"Love Wisdom," Lutheran Woman Today, March 1991.
"Reflections of a Former Editor," Iowa Woman, Winter 1990.
"Johan Olof Wallin," Leaflet Ministry Series, Augsburg Fortress, 1990.
"One More for the Road: A Background Paper on Drunk Driving," The Advocate, Fall 1989.
"Called to Discipleship," Lutheran Woman Today, March 1988.
"Changing Those Things We Can: A Christian Approach to Alcohol," The Other Side, March 1987. Reprinted in International Christian Digest, October 1987.
"Face to Face With God," The Lutheran Standard, April 4, 1986.
"Woman, Language, and Spirituality," Iowa Woman, Fall 1984.
"The Canteen," Iowa Woman, Fall 1984.
"The Suturing of a Bleeding Heart," Iowa Woman, Spring 1984.
"But He's Not a Junkie," The Other Side, October 1982.
C. Book Reviews
Beyond Power, by Marilyn French. Iowa Woman, Winter 1986.
Heart Failure, by Ivy Goodman. Iowa Woman, Winter 1984.
More Work For Mother, by Ruth Schwartz. Iowa Woman, Winter 1984.
Love Story of the Century, by Marta Tikkanen. Iowa Woman, Spring 1984.
D. Religious Educational Materials
Wisdom Literature. Adult Home Bible Study Series. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1989.
Proverbs. Friendship Bible Study Series, student book and leader guide. Augsburg Publishing House, 1987.
The Story of the Church. Thirty-nine lessons: reader, workbook, and leader guide. Augsburg Publishing House, 1983.
The New Testament for Us. Thirty-nine lessons: workbook and leader guide. Augsburg Publishing House, 1983.
The Old Testament for Us. Thirty-nine lessons: workbook and leader guide. Augsburg Publishing House, 1983.
Image Enrichment Kit. Usage guide. Augsburg Publishing House, 1982.
Your Life/Your Self. Leader guide. Augsburg Publishing House, 1982.
Where Word and World Meet. Thirteen lessons, student book and leader guide. Augsburg Publishing House, 1981.
God's Gift of Law. Thirteen lessons, student book and leader guide. Augsburg Publishing House, 1981.
Tending the Family Tree. Minneapolis, MN: Winston Press, 1980.
Real Living: A Small Group Bible Study Based on the Gospel of Luke. 120 lessons (four-year study, 4 vols.); student books and leader guides. Winston Press, 1977, '78, '79. Reprinted and abridged by the British and Foreign Bible Society.
Honors and Awards
Moorhead High School Hall of Honor, 2010.
Listed in Cambridge Who's Who of Professionals and Executives, 2007.
Listed in the International Authors and Writers Who's Who, Cambridge, England: 10th, 11th, and 12th Editions.
Listed in Outstanding Young Women of America, 1972.
Words that Sing - Literary Prose Style. Collegeville Institute, St. John's University, Collegeville, MN.
Words that Sing II - Avanced Literary Prose Style. Collegeville Institute, St. John's University, Collegeville, MN.
Fiction Writing, Personal Essay, Metaphor, Personal Portrait Writing, Memoir Writing, Prose Style, and Honing Your Prose. The Iowa Summer Writing Festival, 1989 - 2008.
Prose Rhythms, Memorable Images: Writing craft for Sermons, Prayers, Liturgies, and Blessing Rituals. Continuing Education: Columbia Theological Seminary, 2001, Lilly Foundation Residency Program, 2004-2005.
The Enneagram for Personal Spiritual Growth and Improved Interpersonal Relationships. Luther Seminary, 2003, 2004. Columbia Theological Seminary, 2005.
Writing for the Web: From Information to Ministry. St John's Lutheran Church, 2001 - 2004. The Bridge, 2009.
Using Metaphor. Continuing Education: Luther Seminary 1999. SE Iowa workshops, 2001.
Prose Style for Religious Professionals. Continuing Education: Princeton Theological Seminary, Graduate Theological Union, Trinity Seminary, Luther Seminary, Columbia Theological Seminary, Wartburg Seminary 1996 - 2004.
Personal Writing (8W:104). The University of Iowa, (Classroom  and correspondence) 1991 - 2000.
Expository Writing (8W:10). The University of Iowa, (classroom and correspondence) 1987 - 92.
Freshman Rhetoric. The University of Iowa, 1982 - 85, 1988.
Speech (1:01). The University of Minnesota, 1974, 1977.
Senior English. Concordia High School, 1963 - 64.
Debate and Declamation coach. Oak Grove High School, 1959 - 60.
Spiritual Director, 1999, St. Joseph's Center, Des Moines, IA.
Certified Enneagram Instructor, 1997, Loyola University, Chicago, IL.
Web Meditation and Bible Study writer for the St. John's Lutheran Church, Des Moines, IA, web site, 1999 - 2004.
Enneagram Workshop Leader for Church Staff Development, 1997 - present.
Developer and Leader of Shalom Groups: Using the Twelve-Steps and Enneagram for Spiritual Renewal. Zion Lutheran Church, Iowa City, IA, 1986-1998, St. John's Lutheran Church, Des Moines, IA, 1999 - 2004.
Developer, writer, and publisher: Literary Prose Style: A Course for Religious Professionals, 1996.
Researcher for the Harvard Pluralism Project on "Religious Pluralism in Iowa," 1993.
Developer and Writer: Correspondence Course 8W:104 - Personal Writing, University of Iowa, 1990.
Established Zion Publishing, 1990.
Editorial Assistant: Philological Quarterly, 1986 - 92.
Editor: Iowa Woman, a Quarterly Journal of Information and the Arts, 1983 - 85.
Lecturer on Spiritual Direction, 2004 - present.
Lecturer on the Enneagram, 1996 - present.
Lecturer on religious pluralism, 1994 - present.
Guest lecturer at Holden Village: Enneagram, 1999, The Twelve Steps, 1991.
Speaker for local and regional civic groups, 1965 - present.
Member, Mercy Hospital Advisory Board, 1988 - 1991.
Fifth-Step Volunteer: MECCA Treatment Center, Iowa City, IA, 1987 - 1989.
Teacher of Church Study Groups, 1961 - present.
Member, Area Health Care Advisory Board, Morris, MN, 1975 - 79.
Featured speaker, Weekend Retreats: 1978, 1981, 1983, 1988, 1998, 2002.
Hosted a weekly radio interview program on civic affairs, Morris, MN, 1971-1975.
Member, Community Development Advisory Board, Morris, MN, 1974 - 76.
Newspaper columnist, Morris Sun Tribune, 1971 - 1973.
Officer, League of Women Voters, Morris, MN, 1970 - 1975.
Political radio and television speechwriter, 1968 - 1980.
Political precinct chair, Sunburg, MN, 1968 - 1970.
Church Library board chair, Sunburg, MN and Morris, MN, 1965 - 79.