Terry Heller, Coe College

Biographical Information

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I grew up right next to the Green River, which is many-hearted, but not big. I spent my childhood looking into whether cats could swim, how far a dog would chase a frog, how long a plywood & roofing tar boat would float, and other mysteries. The Green River begins near Shabbona, Illinois on Route 30, bisects my family's farm near Hooppole (South of Prophetstown, North of Annawan), mixes with the Rock River near Moline, and from there is carried a short way into the Mississippi. I now live not far from the Cedar River, which arises near Hayfield, Minnesota, bisects my city of Cedar Rapids, joins the Iowa River near Columbus Junction, and from there is carried a good distance into the Mississippi. I don't spend so many hours in and around this river, but I look it over often. I find symmetry comforting and also interesting.


Schooling was grueling until college. At North Central College in Naperville, Illinois, there were liberal arts students, my kind of people. And there were English majors, Religion minors and Philosophy minors, also my kind of people. It was so exciting that I couldn't stop with a B.A. I married Linda (and she married me) and went on to the University of Chicago, where studying literature could be seen as obsessive. About five years after completing my Ph.D. I returned to normality, insofar as making a career of reading, teaching, and writing is normal in contemporary America.

Work at Coe College

I arrived at Coe College in the Fall of 1975, after completing a year of teaching at the University of Missouri in St. Louis and another year at the University of Turin in Italy. My son Gabe arrived the next Spring. My main job at Coe has been to help students learn how to increase their pleasure in literature and writing. Along the way in some small ways, I've become part of the history of Coe. I was one of the inventors of the once annual, then now historical, and now perhaps resurrected Shakespeare Birthday Party. I was on the committee that invented the Writing Across the Curriculum & Writing Center Programs. Ann Struthers and I obtained grants that began the series of visits and readings by Midwestern authors that continues today in new forms invented by others. Ann Struthers and I founded the Coe Review Press in 1993.  For much of the past decade, I've been establishing the Sarah Orne Jewett Text Project at Coe.  While others have done bigger and more important things for Coe, I'm very proud of these. I think they probably atone for many of the mistakes I've made.

Professional Writing

I write criticism, reference, reviews, fiction, and opinion. My critical books are The Delights of Terror (Illinois 1987) and The Turn of the Screw: Bewildered Vision (Twayne 1989). Examples of the other forms can be found in the Coe College library by checking the catalog. I also enjoy editing. My edited books are Sarah Orne Jewett's The Country of the Pointed Firs & Other Fiction (Oxford, 1996) and (with Ann Struthers) Holding On & Letting Go (Coe Review Press, 1996), and Turning Up the Leaves (Coe Review Press, 2001).  Others can be found in the library.  Recent short stories have appeared in Short Story, The Coe Review and in Holding On & Letting Go.  There is even an "unpublished" novel in my files.  To see some of this work on line, click here.

Recreational Activities

I enjoy reading, writing, racquet sports, listening to singer-songwriters (especially Greg Brown and Joni Mitchell), travellng, keeping my house from falling down and the weeds from taking over. I like to spend time doing all of these things with Linda.
     My favorite writers are those whom I teach the most often, and there are too many to list. Here are a few in arbitrary order: Sarah Orne Jewett, William Faulkner, Willa Cather, Eudora Welty, Mark Twain, James Baldwin, Herman Melville, Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Anton Chekhov, Jane Austen. Ursula K. Le Guin, Orson Scott Card, Nicholson Baker, Sandra Cisneros, Louise Erdrich.... Once I start, it's hard to stop. A bookstore is far more dangerous than a candy store.


     The true purpose of education is to teach us how to love the world.
          Garrison Keillor

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