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...
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