Larry Heinemann, 1944-2019

Larry Heinemann—the award-winning novelist much of whose work reflected his experiences as a working-class kid from Chicago who was drafted into the Army and served a 1967-68 Vietnam War tour of duty with the 25th Infantry Division—died December 11 at age 75 of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Heinemann—who received the Vietnam Veterans of America Excellence in the Arts Award at the 1987 National Convention—was best known for his searing Vietnam War-heavy novel, Paco’s Story, which received the 1987 National Book Award for Fiction. His semi-autobiographical first novel, Close Quarters (1977), was one of the first serious works of in-country Vietnam War fiction.

In those two books, and in everything else he wrote about the Vietnam War, Larry Heinemann was noted for his hard-hitting, blunt prose that never shied away from showing the war (and its post-war psychological effects) at its worst. “What’s important is to get the overall spirit of the war,” he said in a 1987 interview after receiving the National Book Award. “The main thing is to pull no punches and not to exclude anything you think is beyond anyone’s taste.”

Larry Heinemann taught creative writing at the University of Southern California in the late 1990s and was Texas A&M University’s Writer in Residence from 2005 until his retirement ten years later.

According to his obituary in the Bryan-College Station (Texas) Eagle, Heinemann’s ashes “will be spread by family members on Lake Michigan next summer, per his request.”


December 14, 2019

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