Heinemann, Larry 1944-

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Heinemann, Larry 1944-
(Larry Curtiss Heinemann)


Born January 18, 1944, in Chicago, IL; married Edie Smith (an office manager); children: Sarah, Preston. Education: Kendall College, A.A., 1966; Columbia College, B.A., 1971.


Agent—c/o Author Mail, Doubleday, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.


Columbia College, Chicago, IL, instructor in writing, 1971-86; writer, 1971—. Claridge lecturer, Illinois College, 1995; Regent's scholar, University of California-Davis, 1995; Miller scholar, University of Illinois-Champaign, 1996; writer-in-residence, Northwestern University, Chicago, IL, 1996. Director of writing workshops throughout the United States. Served on various panels and committees, including Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley's Advisory Committee on Veterans' Affairs, 1988-90; National Endowment for the Arts fiction peer panel, 1988; Nelson Algren Literary Award panel, 1989; Chicago Sun-Times Book of the Year panel, 1990; and National Book Award fiction panel, 1991. Military service: U.S. Army, 1966-68, served in Vietnam; became sergeant; received Combat Infantryman's Badge.


Best first novel citation from Society of Midland Authors, 1978, for Close Quarters; Pratt fellow, Bread Loaf Writer's Conference, 1979; fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, 1982 and 1986; fellowships from the Illinois Arts Council, 1982 and 1987; National Book Award, Carl Sandburg Medal, Vietnam Veterans of America Tu Do Chien (Freedom to Express) Award, and fiction prize from Society of Midland Authors, all 1987, all for Paco's Story; Guggenheim Foundation fellow, 1988-89; Steinberg/PEN fellow, University of Pennsylvania, 1989; named author of the year, Illinois Association of Teachers of English, 1993; Fulbright scholarship, 2002.


Close Quarters (novel; portions originally published in

Penthouse magazine), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1977, reprinted, Vintage Contemporaries (New York, NY), 2005.

Paco's Story (novel), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1986, reprinted, Vintage Contemporaries (New York, NY), 2005.

Cooler by the Lake (novel), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1992.

Black Virgin Mountain: A Return to Vietnam (memoir), Doubleday (New York, NY), 2005.

Contributor to Best Short Stories of 1980, edited by Stanley Elkin, Houghton, 1980; Best American Stories in 1980, Penguin, 1981; Best of TriQuarterly, edited by Jonathan Brent, Washington Square Press, 1982; Soldiers and Civilians, edited by Tom Jenks, Bantam, 1986; Essay 2: Reading with the Writer's Eye, Wadsworth, 1987; Vietnam Anthology, edited by Nancy Anisfield, Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1987; Changing Chicago: A Photodocumentary, University of Illinois Press, 1988; What Should We Tell Our Children about Vietnam?, edited by Bill McCloud, University of Oklahoma Press, 1989; Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War, W.W. Norton, 1992; American Voices: Multicultural Literacy and Critical Thinking, Mayfield Publishing, 1993; Men in America, photographs by Tom Arndt, Smithsonian Institution, 1994; The Other Side of Heaven, Curbstone Press, 1995; and The United States and Vietnam from War to Peace, edited by Robert Slabey, McFarland, 1996.

Contributor of short stories, articles, and reviews to newspapers and magazines, including the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Times Magazine, Chicago Tribune Magazine, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Harper's, Entertainment Weekly, New American Writing, Time Out, TriQuarterly, Playboy, and Penthouse.


Close Quarters, Paco's Story, and Black Virgin Mountain have been adapted for audio-books.


Larry Heinemann, a Vietnam veteran whose tour of duty included many deadly firefights, has drawn from his experiences to produce two awardwinning novels, Close Quarters and Paco's Story. The latter work, a tale of one wounded soldier's return to America, won the 1987 National Book Award as well as several prestigious regional prizes. Washington Post Book World reviewer Duncan Spencer called Heinemann "the grunt's novelist of the Vietnam War," adding: "His is the storytelling of life and death between the laager and the tree line, a life of dirt, fear, dope, alcohol, brutality, curses and evil. He tells, from his own experience as a soldier, the results of fighting a war without will and without authority."

Heinemann spent a number of years working on Close Quarters, his first novel. The book was published in 1977, and portions of it appeared earlier as short stories in Penthouse magazine. In a review for the New York Times, critic Richard R. Lingeman called it "an unremittingly honest look into the black pit of war." The reviewer also wrote: "The descriptions are dead-on accurate, as is the language, a kind of obscene poetry of soldier talk."

Paco's Story offers a different perspective on the war. The novel's hero, Paco Sullivan, returns to America wounded and disfigured, his company's only survivor. The ghosts of Paco's fallen comrades narrate the story of his wandering into a small Midwestern town and finding work as a dishwasher in a diner. In a Chicago Tribune Books piece, Gerald Nicosia contended that while Paco's Story contains vivid descriptions of "some of the most brutal and gory incidents of the Vietnam war," it is also "the tale of one man's quest to be understood as a human being, and ‘to discover a livable peace.’" Most critics found the novel deeply affecting and praised its imagery and unusual ghostly voice. Spencer called Paco's Story "a nightmare in prose, perhaps the sliding kind, in which the sleeper finds himself slipping farther and farther into the pit in spite of every kind of struggle, a nightmare in which there is no rest, no safety, only the sure approach of an unknown doom."

The announcement that Paco's Story had won the 1987 National Book Award—the nation's most important citation for creative writing—took some members of the New York literary establishment by surprise. A few critics even suggested that Heinemann did not deserve the award, and that his fellow nominees Toni Morrison and Philip Roth had both written better books. In the Los Angeles Times Book Review, editor Jack Miles defended Heinemann, noting: "The point is simply that Larry Heinemann richly deserved the prize that he won." Miles added: " Paco's Story was no fluke. It was, quite literally, a coast-to-coast success."

The "coast-to-coast success" of Paco's Story allowed Heinemann to relinquish his duties as a college instructor in order to write full time. At this point in his life and career, Heinemann was anxious to leave his Vietnam experiences behind him—at least for awhile. In a 1989 interview with CA, the author described his work in progress, which became the novel Cooler by the Lake: "I decided to write a purposely funny book, a Marx Brothers movie of a book. It will be, as the saying goes, a laugh riot; I need to lighten up. Also my wife has said (quite tongue-in-cheek, though) that she wouldn't believe I was a writer until I could write a book with a happy ending."

Cooler by the Lake is that "laugh riot," the story of a lovable con man named Maximilian Nutmeg who finds the wallet of a wealthy woman—and a letter from her lover—and falls into a series of outrageous mishaps when he decides to return them to their rightful owner. Along the way the reader is introduced to Max's large, strange family, many of them equally derelict when it comes to the law. Heinemann also offers readers an insider's view of Chicago, his hometown. Indeed, "the city itself is the most important element in Cooler by the Lake," wrote Tim Sandlin in the New York Times, an assessment echoed by other critics, variously pleased or annoyed by the fact. As Sandlin put it: "When place overbears plot and character, plot and character tend to suffer."

Heinemann's method in the novel strings the reader along with bits of action, surrounded by pages of information on the history of street names and buildings, neighborhoods and famous personalities in Chicago history, all in the guise of asides. Some critics noted that it is easy to lose sight of the story among all the trivia, amusing or not. David Montrose commented in the Times Literary Supplement that "whatever its defects as a novel, Cooler by the Lake works admirably as a hymn to Chicago." Sandlin concluded: "Cooler by the Lake is not Paco's Story. A month after you've read it you won't wake up at dawn in a cold sweat, haunted by the characters. By comparison, Cooler by the Lake is a circus act—a highly entertaining circus act that brings us a few laughs and a few moments' relief from the intensity of daily life, then moves on down the road."

In Black Virgin Mountain: A Return to Vietnam the author abandons fiction to present his memoir of return visits to Vietnam. Heinemann focuses primarily on a visit he made in 1992 with numerous other writers as part of the Vietnam Writers' Association. The title comes from a mountain that the author saw many times as a soldier serving in Vietnam. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the book "an angry yet ultimately moving journal of the quest for closure many Vietnam vets may never find." Commenting in Publishers Weekly, one reviewer wrote: "Part memoir, part travelogue, part personal political treatise, Heinemann's first nonfiction effort is also a winner."



Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 50, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1988.


Booklist, January 1, 2005, John Mort, review of Black Virgin Mountain: A Return to Vietnam, p. 782.

Critique, fall, 1994, Grant F. Scott, review of Paco's Story, p. 69; summer, 2000, Louis K. Greiff, review of Paco's Story, p. 381.

Explicator, spring, 1994, Robert M. Slabey, review of Paco's Story, p. 187; summer, 1994, Robert M. Slabey, review of Paco's Story, pp. 187-189.

Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2005, review of Black Virgin Mountain, p. 101.

Library Journal, December 1, 2004, Barbara Hoffert, review of Black Virgin Mountain, p. 92; February 15, 2005, A.O. Edmonds, review of Black Virgin Mountain, p. 138; September 15, 2005, Michael Rogers, review of Close Quarters, p. 102.

New York Times, July 18, 1977, Richard R. Lingeman, review of Close Quarters, p. 25; June 14, 1992, Tim Sandlin, review of Cooler by the Lake, p. 27.

Publishers Weekly, March 16, 1992, review of Cooler by the Lake, p. 63; January 24, 2005, review of Black Virgin Mountain, p. 229.

Times Literary Supplement, November 27, 1992, David Montrose, review of Cooler by the Lake, p. 26.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), November 23, 1986, Gerald Nicosia, review of Paco's Story, p. 6.

Washington Post Book World, January 18, 1987, Duncan Spencer, review of Paco's Story.


Brothers Judd,http://www.brothersjudd.com/ (May 24, 2006), review of Paco's Story.

Cosmoetica,http://www.cosmoetica.com/ (May 24, 1005), review of Black Virgin Mountain.

Logos: A Journal of Modern Society and Culture,http://logosonline.home.igc.org/ (May 24, 2006), "Larry Heinemann in Conversation with Kurt Jacobsen."

Pop Matters,http://www.popmatters.com/ (May 24, 2006), Lisa Nuch Venbrux, review of Black Virgin Mountain.


Back in the World: Writing after Vietnam (audio recording), American Arts Project, 1984.

Larry Heinemann (video recording), Lannan Foundation Literary Series, 1990.

Larry Heinemann Interview with Kay Bonetti, American Audio Prose Library, 1988.

Larry Heinemann Reads Paco's Story, American Audio Prose Library, 1988.