Heighton, Steven 1961–

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Heighton, Steven 1961–


Born August 14, 1961, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Education: Queen's University, B.A., 1985, M.A., 1986.


Home—Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Agent—Anne M'Dermid & Associates, 92 Willcocks St., Toronto, Ontario M5S 1C8, Canada. E-mail—[email protected].


Writer, novelist, poet, essayist, short-story writer, editor, translator, and educator. English as a Second Language teacher, Osaka, Japan, 1985; freelance writer, 1988—. Writer-in-residence, St. Mary's University, 1992; writer-in-residence, Berton House, Dawson City, 2001; writer-in-residence, Concordia University, Montreal, 2002-03; Jack McClelland writer-in-residence, University of Toronto, Massey College, 2004; poetry instructor, summer literary seminars, St. Petersburg, Russia. Frequent presenter at writing workshops and seminars.


Air Canada Award, 1989; Gerald Lampert Award for best poetry debut, 1990, for Stalin's Carnival; first prize in short fiction, Prism International, 1991; Stand magazine short story competition prize-winner, 1991; gold medal for fiction, National Magazine Awards, 1992; Journey Prize finalist, 1992; Trillium Award finalist, 1993, for Flight Paths of the Emperor; Governor General's Award finalist, 1995, for The Ecstasy of Skeptics; W.H. Smith Award nomination, 1998, for Flight Paths of the Emperor; Petra Kenney Award for poetry, 2002; Publishers Weekly book of the year distinction, 2002, for The Shadow Boxer; Award for Excellence in the Arts, Kingston Arts Council, 2004; McEwan College Book of the Year finalist, 2006, for Afterlands; New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice award, for Afterlands; Pushcart Prize nomination.


Stalin's Carnival (poetry), Quarry Press (Kingston, Ontario, Canada), 1989.

Foreign Ghosts (poetry), Oberon Press (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada), 1989.

Flight Paths of the Emperor (short stories), Porcupine's Quill (Erin, Ontario, Canada), 1992.

The Ecstasy of Skeptics (poetry), Anansi (Concord, Ontario, Canada), 1994.

On earth as it is (short stories), Porcupine's Quill (Erin, Ontario, Canada), 1995.

The Admen Move on Lhasa: Writing and Culture in a Virtual World (essays), Anansi (Concord, Ontario, Canada), 1996.

The Shadow Boxer (novel), Knopf Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2000, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2002.

The Address Book, House of Anansi Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2004.

(Associate editor, with Helen Tsiriotakis) Musings: An Anthology of Greek-Canadian Literature, edited by Tess Fragoulis, Vehicule Press (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 2004.

Afterlands (novel), Alfred A. Knopf (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2005, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2006.

Contributor to anthologies, including The Journey Prize Anthology, McClelland & Stewart, 1992; Best English Short Stories, Heinemann, 1992; Best of Best Stories: 1986-1995, Minerva, 1995; Best Canadian Stories, Oberon, 1989, 1992, and 1995; Writing Home, edited by Constance Rooke, M&S, 1997; Turn of the Story, edited by Joan Thomas and Heidi Harms, Anansi, 1999; Lost Classics, edited Ondaatje, Redhill, Spalding, and Spalding, Knopf, 2000; The Reader, edited by Carolyn Meyer and Bruce Meyer, Prentice Hall, 2001; The Notebooks, edited by Michelle Berry and Natalee Caple, Doubleday, 2002; and The New Canon, edited by Carmine Starnino, Vehicule, 2005.

Contributor to periodicals, including Brick, Malahat Review, Exile, Stand, Critical Quarterly, Nimrod, Agni, Literary Review, Northwest Review, Revue Europe, Quadrant, Independent on Sunday, Poetry and Chelsea Hotel. Quarry magazine, editor, 1991-94. Heighton's works have been translated into nine languages.


Steven Heighton is a Canadian writer who has distinguished himself in both poetry and fiction. He began his literary career in 1989 with Stalin's Carnival, a poetry collection that Maurice Mierau, writing in Books in Canada, described as "a promising if uneven debut." In the central portion of this volume, Heighton explores the psychology of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, and he even presents English renderings of works attributed to the onetime leader. Mierau proclaimed the Stalin-related verse "interesting and uneven," and he concluded that "Heighton is already an ambitious and very accomplished writer."

In 1992 Heighton published Flight Paths of the Emperor, a collection of short stories that Ann Copeland, in her Books in Canada appraisal, found "sophisticated and elegantly told." Some of the tales in this volume reflect Heighton's experiences as a teacher in Japan during the late 1980s. "A Man away from Home Has No Neighbors," for example, concerns a Japanese soldier's love for a Chinese peasant, and "An Apparition Play" relates a father's alienation from his daughter while in Japan to conduct a burial service. Another tale, "On Strikes and Errors in Japanese Baseball," chronicles an attempt to uncover information on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Copeland proclaimed Flight Paths of the Emperor to be "a memorable collection," and she praised it as being "larger and deeper than any one of its fascinating parts." Another reviewer, Mark Ford, wrote in the Times Literary Supplement that Heighton's tales "are nearly all vivacious, purposeful, and entertaining." Tom McCarthy noted in the London Observer: "Technically, the best pieces are little short of brilliant."

Heighton followed Flight Paths of the Emperor with The Ecstasy of Skeptics, an ambitious collection of poems expressing both the Apollonian and Dionysian aspects of his own life. "As you might guess, this is ambitious stuff," acknowledged Scott Ellis in Books in Canada, adding that "Heighton almost always pulls it off." Bert Almon wrote in the Canadian Book Review Annual that The Ecstasy of Skeptics "arouses more skepticism than ecstasy," and he contended that "this is not a powerful collection of poems." He conceded, however, that "Heighton has talent."

After issuing The Ecstasy of Skeptics, Heighton produced his On earth as it is, his second collection of short stories. Notable tales in this volume include "Translations of April," wherein a translator relates tales written by a dead loved one, and "To Everything a Season," in which, as Sheryl Halpern observed in Books in Canada, eight individuals "play out the different seasons of lovemaking and leavetaking." Stephen Smith, in his Quill & Quire assessment, summarized the tales in On earth as it is as "real and rooted and vital," and Tamas Dobozy added in Canadian Literature that "the book delivers." Henry Hitchings noted in the Times Literary Supplement that "Heighton explores the failure of our attempts to communicate—both with others and with ourselves—and the way reality cannot sustain the fantasies we attempt to imprint on it."

Heighton next published The Admen Move on Lhasa: Writing and Culture in a Virtual World, a collection of essays on subjects ranging from the essence of art to the nature of contemporary life. Zsuzsi Gartner, writing in Quill & Quire, deemed Heighton's book "passionate, honest, and somewhat noble." Lawrence Mathews, in his Essays on Canadian Writing analysis, praised it as "passionate, generous-spirited, … blessedly anachronistic." Patricia Morley, who concluded that "some of the individual pieces attempt more than they achieve," nonetheless considered Heighton to be "an accomplished writer of fiction and poetry," and she added, in her Canadian Book Review Annual consideration, that The Admen Move on Lhasa "is ambitious in scope and brilliant in parts."

Among Heighton's other writings is The Shadow Boxer, a novel about an aspiring writer who attempts to complete his first novel while overcoming both personal inadequacies and family problems. Times Literary Supplement reviewer Margaret Stead called The Shadow Boxer "an energetic, fluent and interesting novel," and a Publishers Weekly critic hailed it as "remarkable."

Heighton turned again to the novel form with Afterlands, based on the true-life story of a group of arctic explorers trapped for months on a drifting, ever- shrinking ice floe. In 1871, during an expedition to the North Pole, the ship Polaris was caught in ice off the coast of Greenland. In an attempt to lighten the vessel's load and free it from the ice, nineteen passengers and crewmembers were offloaded to an ice floe. Then, inexplicably, they were abandoned by the Polaris, beginning a six-month ordeal of survival as the floe drifted through frigid northern waters. In telling the story, Heighton "brilliantly riffs off" the events recorded in the diary and memoir of Lt. George Tyson, a real-life figure who endured the hardships on the ice floe and became the de facto leader of the group, noted a Publishers Weekly critic. Among the other characters portrayed by Heighton are Tukulito, also known as Hannah, a married woman who served as the group's Esquimau translator, and Kruger, a belligerent German sailor whose infatuation with Hannah and conflict with Tyson caused additional troubles for the hard-pressed group of survivors. "The extended flashback that describes the six-month misadventure is a numbingly dramatic, visually stunning tour de force," commented a Kirkus Reviews critic, who also noted that the novel contains "tremendous sequences and images." Heighton also relates stories of the survivors' lives after rescue, showing how memories of even long-term traumatic experiences can be unreliable, and "how casually events can be interpreted in many different ways," noted Colleen Mondor in Booklist. Reviewer Lorna Dolan, writing in the Financial Times, commented that Heighton's "retelling of the hard months of hunger, cold and isolation is compelling, vividly imagined, and written in rich and precise prose." The Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded that "this novel's scale, its delight in detail, and its psychological insight make it an exceptionally satisfying adventure."



Booklist, January 1, 2006, Colleen Mondor, review of Afterlands, p. 55.

Books in Canada, January, 1990, Maurice Mierau, "Man of Steel," pp. 46-47; December, 1992, Ann Copeland, "Senses of Strangeness," pp. 38-39; April, 1995, Scott Ellis, "The New Lyricism," pp. 49-50; September, 1995, Sheryl Halpern, "Lingering Refrains," pp. 35-36.

Canadian Book Review Annual, 1995, Bert Almon, review of The Ecstasy of Skeptics, p. 3173; 1998, Patricia Morley, review of The Admen Move on Lhasa: Writing and Culture in a Virtual World, p. 268.

Canadian Literature, fall-winter, 1993, Jim Snyder, "Claims of Loneliness," pp. 158-160; summer, 1998, Tamas Dobozy, "Approaching Earth," pp. 176-178.

Essays on Canadian Writing, spring, 1998, Lawrence Mathews, "Beautiful Downtown Lhasa," pp. 167-171.

Financial Times, June 10, 2006, Lorna Dolan, "In Brief," review of Afterlands, p. 53.

Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2001, review of The Shadow Boxer; December 1, 2005, review of Afterlands, p. 1247.

Library Journal, December, 2001, Jim Dwyer, review of The Shadow Boxer, p. 172.

Observer (London, England), February, 1997, Tom McCarthy, "Change at Japan for All Points West," p. 17.

Publishers Weekly, February 18, 2002, review of The Shadow Boxer, p. 77; November 21, 2005, review of Afterlands, p. 26.

Quill & Quire, December, 1992, Stephen Smith, "Remarkable First Flight," p. 15; July, 1995, Stephen Smith, review of On earth as it is, p. 51; March, 1997, Zsuzsi Gartner, "Life Is Short and Literature Matters," p. 74.

Times Literary Supplement, February 7, 1997, Mark Ford, review of Flight Paths of the Emperor, p. 21; September 19, 1997, Henry Hitchings, "Rudderless in Kathmandu," p. 21; August 11, 2000, Margaret Stead, "Leaving the Soo," p. 24.


Steven Heighton Home Page,http://www.stevenheighton.com (January 2, 2007).

Vancouver International Writers and Readers Festival 2004 Web site, http://www.writersfest.bc.ca/2004festival/ (January 2, 2007), biography of Steven Heighton.

Writers Union of Canada Web site,http://www.writersunion.ca/ (January 2, 2007), biography of Steven Heighton.