Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 446
Though William Helmuth Heyen (HAY-ihn) was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1940, he grew up in Suffolk County on Long Island. His father, Henry Jürgen Heyen, had emigrated from Germany to the United States in 1929 and worked in the United States as a bartender and carpenter. Heyen’s mother, Wilhelmine Auguste Else Wormke, had come to the United States from Germany in 1934.
Heyen’s memories of his childhood experiences on Long Island fuel many of his poems, as do his links by birth to Germany. When his father emigrated from Germany, he left his entire family behind; two of his brothers were killed during World War II, fighting on the German side: Wilhelm, an infantryman for whom Heyen was named, died on the day of the poet’s birth and Hermann—whom Heyen has described as “a rabid Nazi”—was shot down over Russia.
In 1961 Heyen graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Brockport. He was an outstanding athlete who was twice selected as an All-American in soccer during his undergraduate years at Brockport and who starred on his high school and college basketball teams. After teaching English for a year at Springfield Junior High School in New York, Heyen was married to Hannelore Greiner, with whom he had two children, William and Kirsten. He earned master’s (1963) and doctoral (1967) degrees from Ohio University and taught English from 1963 to 1965 at SUNY at Cortland. Heyen taught at SUNY at Brockport, his alma mater, from 1967 to his retirement in 2000.
Heyen’s work has been greeted by critical acceptance and acclaim from many quarters. In 1965 Heyen won the Borestone Mountain Poetry Prize from the Prairie Schooner for “Boy of Gull, Boy of Brine.” During 1971 to 1972 he traveled to West Germany on a Senior Fulbright Lectureship and lectured at the Universities of Freiburg, Tübingen, and Hannover, as well as at the University of Oslo in Norway, and others. He has been the recipient of three State University of New York Research Foundation fellowships for poetry, two National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing fellowships (1973-1974 and 1984-1985), a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship for Poetry (1977-1978), the Eunice Tietjens Memorial Award from Poetry (1978), the Witter Bynner Prize for Poetry (1982), and the New York Foundation for the Arts Poetry Fellowship (1984-1985). Noise in the Trees: Poems and a Memoir was chosen by the American Library Association as one of thirty Notable Books of 1974. The Generation of 2000: Contemporary American Poets was chosen by Booklist of the American Library Association as an “Outstanding Book of 1984.” In 1997, Crazy Horse in Stillness won both the Fairchild Award and Small Press Book Award.
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