William Heath was born in Youngstown, Ohio, on June 27th , 1942. He attended Hiram College and received his M.A. and Ph.D. in American Studies from Case Western Reserve. He has taught American literature and creative writing at Kenyon, Transylvania, Vassar, and the University of Seville, serving as the Fulbright professor of American literature for two years. In 1981 he began teaching at Mount Saint Mary’s University, where he edited The Monocacy Valley Review, which won national awards for excellence. In 2007 he retired as a Professor Emeritus. The William Heath Award is given annually to honor a student writer. In 2008-9 he was the Sophia M. Libman Professor of Humanities at Hood College.
Heath’s novel about the civil rights movement in Mississippi, The Children Bob Moses Led (Milkweed Editions 1995, paperback 1997), won the Hackney Literary Award for best novel, was nominated for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, and by Joyce Carol Oates for the Ainsfield-Wolf Award. Time magazine judged it one of eleven outstanding novels on the African-American experience at: www.time.com/time/2002/bhm/reading.html. A twentieth anniversary edition was published by NewSouth Books in 2014.
His second novel, Blacksnake’s Path: The True Adventures of William Wells (Heritage Books 2008), was nominated for the James Fenimore Cooper Award and chosen by the History Book Club as an alternate selection. Devil Dancer (Somondoco Press 2013) is a neo-noir crime novel set in Lexington, KY. William Wells and the Struggle for the Old Northwest (University of Oklahoma Press 2015, paperback 2017) won two Spur Awards for best history book and best first nonfiction book. He also edited Conversations with Robert Stone (University of Mississippi Press 2016, paperback 2018). He has published numerous book reviews and twenty essays on literature and history.
Heath began publishing his poetry in the late sixties; the finest poems are collected in The Walking Man (Icarus Books 1994). James Wright said of this early work: “William Heath is in my opinion one of the most brilliantly accomplished and gifted young poets to appear in the United States in quite some time. I am especially moved by the delicacy and precision of the language, which indicates a distinguished intelligence, and by the purity and depth of feeling in all of his poems.” Richard Wilbur noted: “The Walking Man is the work of a poet who knows how to tell a story.”
Recently he has returned to his first love. Steel Valley Elegy (Kelsay Books 2022), contains a selection of his later work set in the U.S. and includes poems from a chapbook, Night Moves in Ohio (Finishing Line Press 2019). Kit Hathaway noted that these poems “are by turns poignant, funny, and starkly realistic . . . teeming with fascinating storyline detail and imagery,” Eamon Grennan added, “These poems are savvy and lively, as exact as a high jumper’s focus, quick and accurate as a tennis player’s eye, wrist, ankle. . . . Heath’s own remembrance of things past—an autobiography in rapt miniature lit by the laser-light of memory.”
Going Places, set abroad, is the companion volume to Steel Valley Elegy. The first section is inspired by two years in Seville; the second draws on stays in Barcelona, home of his wife Roser. The third features their travels in Europe, while the final section tours the world, including places only visited vicariously. The extensive collection ranges from sophisticated European pleasures to the misery endured by people in remote countries. All the poems display an eye for telling detail, a lucid perspective, a sensibility that is ironic, witty, thoughtful, and compassionate, a love of sonorous words and memorable narrative, a knack for the poetic line, and a deft way of moving each poem down the page. Going Places is the mature work of a singular poet.
He and his wife, Roser Caminals-Heath—Professor Emerita of Spanish at Hood College and author of ten novels in Catalan—lived in Frederick, MD, since 1981 and moved to Annapolis in 2022.
Paperback: 163 pages
Publisher: Kelsay Books (March 7, 2023)