Remembering Author, Alum, and Former Faculty Member Larry Heinemann
On January 18, Larry Heinemann would have celebrated his 76th birthday. He inspired a generation of creative writing students with dedication to teaching and storytelling. The award-winning novelist and distinguished member of the Columbia College Chicago community passed away on December 11, 2019, after a long battle with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
Larry first attended Columbia as a student in the late '60s after serving in the 25th Infantry Division during the Vietnam War. He came to Columbia wanting to write about his experience, but knew his background in literature was "meager at best," according to Larry’s former student and one-time colleague, Associate Professor Eric May. "That is an enormous testament to flexibility and strength of Columbia’s Creative Writing Program, which got him started on his path," said May.
After earning his Bachelor's degree in 1971, Larry joined the college as a faculty member, teaching creative writing courses until 1986. It was during that time that Larry proceeded to write novels and won the National Book Award in 1987 for his book, Paco’s Story.
His first novel, Close Quarters, published in 1974 while still teaching at Columbia, was also highly praised. C.D.B Bryan, author of the nonfiction Vietnam book Friendly Fire, called Close Quarters, "The best book written by anyone who fought in Vietnam."
Larry is remembered by fellow faculty as a dedicated instructor and "totally committed" to his students. Associate Professor of English and Writing, Thomas Nawrocki, says his former students always speak very kindly of him with fond enthusiasm.
Nawrocki expressed admiration for his former friend and colleague. "When Larry was the guest speaker in my Vietnam War class, many students afterward told me his visit was the high point of the semester," he said.
Larry began teaching classes that were, at one time, open only to Vietnam War veterans. 'He intuitively understood that writing was one way to deal with PTSD, long before the VA began developing the research,' said Nawrocki.
During the early 1990s, Larry was deeply committed to reconciliation with Vietnam and their war veterans. The Vietnamese Writers Union accepted Larry with open arms and translated his books into Vietnamese. Recently, Larry was inducted into the Vietnamese Writers Legion of Honor, Foreign Writers Room.
From 2005 until his retirement in 2015, he was a writer-in-residence at several colleges, including at Texas A&M University.
Larry is survived by his partner, Kathy Favor of Bryan, Texas, his daughter and son-in-law, Sarah Heinemann and Ted MacLeod, his granddaughter, Clementine of Brooklyn, New York and his son, Preston of Chicago, Illinois.
A memorial service for Larry will be planned to take place in Chicago this summer. His obituary and information on memorial contributions can be found here.