Heath, William 1942-
HEATH, William 1942-
Born 1942; married; wife's name, Roser. Education: Hiram College (graduated); Case Western Reserve University, Ph.D.
Home—507 Elm St., Frederick, MD 21701. Office—Mount Saint Mary's College and Seminary, Department of English, Office 214, Knott Academic Center, 16300 Old Emmitsburg Rd., Emmitsburg, MD 21727-7799. E-mail—[email protected]
Novelist, poet, and educator. Mount Saint Mary's College, member of English department, 1981—. University of Seville, Seville, Spain, Fulbright lecturer, 1979-81. Taught at Kenyon College, Transylvania University, and Vassar College. Editor, Monocacy Valley Review.
Hackney Literary Award for the Novel, Birmingham-Southern College, 1995, and named among Dozen Best Novels about the African-American Experience, Time magazine, both for The Children Bob Moses Led.
The Walking Man (poems), Icarus Books, 1994.
The Children Bob Moses Led, Milkweed Editions (Minneapolis, MN), 1995.
Contributor of poems, short stories, reviews, and essays to literary magazines, including Massachusetts Review, Southern Review, and South Carolina Review.
WORK IN PROGRESS:
Devil Dancer, a novel; William Wells's Path, a novel; Hawthorne and Merry Olde England, a critical study; and Melville and Marquesan Eroticism, a critical study.
William Heath is a professor in the English department at Mount Saint Mary's College and Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland. A longtime educator, Heath has also taught at Transylvania University, Kenyon College, and Vassar College. "It's at Kenyon that I really started to be a writer," Heath commented in a interview with J. M. Spalding for the Cortland Review online. "I switched over from being a critic of literature to being a writer." Heath's focus on poetry was a source of consternation to the departments in charge of Heath's promotions, he said in the interview. Poetry wasn't taken seriously, they told him, and pressed him to produce critical essays and other types of scholarly work. "So I bounced around in academia to a large degree," Heath related to Spalding. "I didn't go the straight route. I didn't publish my dissertation. I didn't publish critical essays. I wrote poetry instead. But I stuck by my guns, and where I bounced was fairly interesting."
Heath's novel The Children Bob Moses Led centers around issues of race and civil rights in Mississippi throughout the early 1960s. Tom Morton, an idealistic but naive white southerner just out of college, longs to help liberate the south and alleviate the racial strife that wracks the region. Bob Moses, a real-life black activist who heads the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), organizes Freedom Summer in 1964 to help convince blacks to vote, persuading them that "only the ballot will deliver them from the intimidation and fear in which they live," noted Hettie Jones in the Washington Post. Morton joins the Freedom Summer Project to help people register to vote, but, "As is often forgotten, and as this novel makes clear … the decision to bring whites in was political," Jones remarked. "It took the deaths of white volunteers Andrew Goldman and Michael Schwerner to focus national attention on the problem." As power struggles erupt in the SNCC, the volunteers begin to doubt their own motives, and personal issues mix inextricably with political ones.
A Publishers Weekly reviewer commented that "the large cast of characters gives voice to the complexity of the era's issues, and Heath's clear chronicle of that poignant moment in our nations recent past is often compelling." Heath "clearly knows his subject and can evoke a scene, and one is drawn into the action and compelled by the events themselves," Jones remarked. The book "is one that needs to be read," Spalding stated, "not for its intelligent craftsmanship, but because it is a book that is endowed very much with the spirit of humanity."
Heath told CA: "Like most writers, I believe, I first became interested in writing after becoming a voracious reader. When I was a teenager I worked for several summers in the boat house of Pine Lake, near Poland, Ohio, where I got up at an ungodly hour to sell fishing permits and bait to fanatic anglers. After the early rush, I had the rest of the long morning to myself to read and read. I began writing during my first teaching job at Kenyon College in the late sixties. I lived in the old John Crowe Ransom house (and attended his eightieth birthday party), my bedroom was Robert Lowell's old room, my living room was Randall Jarrell's, and important writers were frequently passing through—how could I not try my hand at so glorious an enterprise?
"Probably the most surprising, but also depressing, thing I have learned is that "marketing" a book is much harder and more agonzing than writing one. I have learned that literary excellence is almost the last thing commercial publishers are looking for—they want clones of book-like objects that have been sold before. Perhaps for that reason the favorite of my own work is my ugle duckling—Devil Dancer—a crime novel about the shooting of a thoroughbred. For many years now the book has lived in limbo between the crime editors who say it is too literary, and the literary editors who say it is a crime novel. I think it is the most poetic of my novels, and I hope that one day it will find its publisher and its "happy few" audience.
"The classic formulations, to my mind, are Kafka's statement that true fiction should nreak up the ice age of the heart; Conrad's insistence that the purpose of the novel is to make people 'see'; and Joyce's vow to forge in the smithy of his soul 'the uncreated conscience' of his race. I take it, by the way, that what Joyce really meant was the 'consciousness' of his readers; that, it seems to me, is the true goal of serious fiction—to enlarge the sensibilities and awareness of readers, to instruct and delight and make them feel more alive."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Dictionary of American Scholars, 10th edition, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001.
Library Journal, October 1, 1995, Starr E. Smith, review of The Children Bob Moses Led, p. 119.
Publishers Weekly, September 18, 1995, review of The Children Bob Moses Led, p. 112.
Washington Post, December 3, 1995, Hettie Jones, review of The Children Bob Moses Led, section X, p. 10.
Bounty Web site,http://www.geocities.com/blightj/ (October 5, 2004), "William Heath."
Cortland Review Web site,http://www.cortlandreview.com/ (July, 1999), J. M. Spalding, interview with Heath and review of The Children Bob Moses Led.
Milkweed Editions Web site, http://www.milkweed.org/ (October 5, 2004).