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1944 (age 73–74)|
National Book Award |
He received a B.A. from Columbia College, Chicago in 1971, taught creative writing there for fifteen years, and meanwhile wrote his own first and second novels. In 1986 he resigned over a furious argument about nepotism and academic freedom. Paco's Story was published later that year.
Since then Heinemann has received literature fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, and a Fulbright Scholarship to research Vietnamese folklore, legends, and mythology at Huế University. He has also taught on the faculty of the University of Southern California in the Masters of Professional Writing Program. He lives and works in Texas.
Heinemann's prose style is blunt and straightforward, reflecting his working-class background. He drew most directly on his Vietnam experience in his first novel Close Quarters which was published in 1977.
His second and critically most acclaimed novel is Paco's Story, which won the 1987 U.S. National Book Award for Fiction in a major surprise that has remained controversial. Other critics and essayists thought the award appropriate and well deserved. At the time, Heinemann's only comment on the controversy was that the check for $10,000 was already cashed and the Louise Nevelson sculpture was not likely to be returned.
Paco's Story relates the postwar experiences of its protagonist, haunted by the ghosts of his dead comrades who provide the novel's distinctive narrative voice. (It is interesting to note that ghost stories are common in both American and Vietnamese literature about the war.) The story deals with the seemingly contradictory and morally ambiguous role of the soldier as both victimizer and victim. The Women's Publishing House, Nha Xuat Phu Nu of Hanoi, published Paco's Story in December 2010, translated by Pham Anh Tuan, with an introduction by celebrated Vietnamese novelist Bao Ninh. It is the first American-written war novel published in Vietnam.
His third novel, Cooler by the Lake (1992), is a comic story about Chicago. A petty thief gets into awful trouble when he attempts to return to its owner a wallet with eight $100 bills in it. Thematically lighter than his first novels, it was less positively received.
Heinemann's military experiences are documented in his most recent book, Black Virgin Mountain (2005), a memoir. It chronicles his several returns to Vietnam and his personal and political views concerning the country and the war. He has often referred to his two war novels and the memoir as an accidental trilogy.
Heinemann's short stories and non-fiction have appeared in Atlantic Monthly, GRAPHIS, Harper's, Penthouse, Playboy, and Tri-Quarterly magazines, as well as Van Nghe, the Vietnam Writers Association Journal of Arts and Letters in Ha Noi, and numerous anthologies including The Other Side of Heaven, Writing Between the Lines, Vietnam Anthology, Best of the Tri-Quarterly, Lesebuch der wilden Männer, The Vintage Book of War Stories, Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace (edited by Maxine Hong Kingston), and most recently in Humor Me, edited by Ian Frazier.
His work has been translated into Dutch, German, French, Spanish, and Vietnamese.
- "Larry Heinemann in Conversation With Kurt Jacobsen". Logos: A Journal of Modern Society and Culture 2.1 (Winter 2003). Logosonline. Retrieved 2009-10-09.
"National Book Awards – 1987". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-26.
(With essays by Patricia Smith and Harold Augenbraum from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.)
"An Upset at the Book Awards", Edwin McDowell, The New York Times, November 10, 1987, page C13.
• "In a stunning literary upset ..."
"Book Awards Are Pondered", Edwin McDowell, The New York Times, November 12, 1987, page C27.
• "Although the literary and publishing communities have had two days to recover ... they continue to express astonishment that the novel by Larry Heinemann beat the widely celebrated and praised novels by Toni Morrison and Philip Roth.
"'Everybody and their brother thought Toni Morrison was going to win it,' said Gerald Howard, executive editor of Penguin, which published the paperback edition of Paco's Story just this week."
"Did 'Paco's Story' Deserve Its Award?", Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times, November 16, 1987, page C15.
• "What happened? ... Members of the literary community had widely regarded Toni Morrison's novel Beloved as a virtual shoo-in for the prize (with The Counterlife by Philip Roth also a strong contender) and the announcement last Monday ... was greeted with expressions of surprise and astonishment."
- Menand, Louis. "All That Glitters: Literature’s global economy" (review of The Economy of Prestige by James English), The New Yorker, December 26, 2005/January 2, 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-11.