A 1962 graduate of Hamilton, Nichols achieved international acclaim with the publication of his 1964 novel The Sterile Cuckoo . His other novels include The Wizard of Loneliness and his most popular work The Milagro Beanfield War, a story of the struggles of poor Chicanos to preserve their land and rights against powerful business interests.
Nichols settled in New Mexico in the late 1960s. Since then, he has written several books on the life and times of modern New Mexicans. In addition to his fiction works, he has published several non-fiction books. He wrote the text for If Mountains Die, and The Last Beautiful Days of Autumn, two books of photography on New Mexico. He is a popular essayist, and highly regarded political speaker. Although each of his books has a different emphasis, he said that "they all deal with questions of land, cultural ethics, problems of ecology, economics, history and human survival." He wrote Keep it Simple: In Defense of the Earth as a discussion of the need for simplicity for the health of the self and also for the planet.
Three of Nichols' novels have been made into major motion pictures. Released in 1969, The Sterile Cuckoo was filmed at the college, and starred Liza Minnelli. The Wizard of Loneliness and The Milagro Beanfield War were released in 1988.