Steve Heller, MFA, EdD

Chair
MFA in Creative Writing
Professor
(310) 578-1080 ext. 312

MFA in Creative Writing, Bowling Green State University
EdD in Curriculum and Instruction with a specialization in English Education, Oklahoma State University
MS in Curriculum and Instruction, Oklahoma State University
BA in English, Oklahoma State University

Steve Heller (fiction) grew up on a small acreage in the wheat country around Yukon, Oklahoma, where many of his fictions take place. He began his teaching career as an English Instructor at Ponca City High School in northern Oklahoma. He earned his MFA in Creative Writing and English from Bowling Green State University in Ohio, and his EdD in English Education from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. He taught at Kansas State University for 22 years, including 15 as Chair of Creative Writing, where he won several awards for his teaching and service.

A former Yaddo and NEA Fellow, Steve is best known for his novel The Automotive History of Lucky Kellerman, originally published by Chelsea Green and subsequently reprinted by Anchor/Doubleday. Lucky Kellerman was a selection of both Book-of-the-Month Club and the Quality Paperback Book Club. Lucky Kellerman also received the Friends of American Writers First Prize Award. A sequel, Father’s Mechanical Universe, was published by BkMk [BookMark] Press. Novelist Jonis Agee calls Steve Heller “an authentic American voice who teaches us about the human heart haunted by misdeeds, mysteries, and longing”. Steve’s short stories have appeared in numerous magazines and national anthologies, and twice have received O. Henry Awards. Many of his stories have been set in Hawaii, where he has lived for several extended periods, including the spring and summer of 1995 when he served as Distinguished Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Hawaii.

His first collection, The Man Who Drank a Thousand Beers (Chariton Review Press), has been called “a Hawaiian Winesburg, Ohio.” Hawaii is also the focus of his most recent fictions, including stories in Nebraska Review, Bamboo Ridge, South Dakota Review, and Spirit of Aloha, an in-flight magazine. Heller’s narrative essays have appeared in Manoa, Fourth Genre, Colorado Review, New Letters, and many other journals. In the last few years, several of his essays have been reprinted in anthologies, including In Brief: Short Takes on the Personal from W. W. Norton and Living Blue in the Red States from University of Nebraska Press. His new collection of nonfiction, What We Choose to Remember, was recently published in the World Voices Chapbook Series associated with Web del Sol. He is working on a collection of new and selected stories of Hawaii. Heller lives in Marina del Rey with his wife, nonfiction writer Sheyene Foster Heller, and their son Truman.

In my view, creative writing is not self-expression but rather its opposite:  the expression of otherness, a connection between self and other, the writer and his community, the writer and her world, the writer and experience.  “Creative” writing, the act of making something new with words, cannot come from the writer alone, and must necessarily come from the writer’s engagement with the world.  I’m primarily a fiction writer.  Like poet/fiction writer David Huddle, I believe there are only two resources for fiction:  memory and imagination.  I also believe that all stories are both remembered and imagined, even stories with no human characters, set on planets that do not exist, in times that may never come.  Creative writing–in any genre–explores, tests, and seeks the proper form to express relationships between self and other.  When a writer has done her job well, out of this process something new, a fresh vision of experience, is created.

I believe the two major goals of creative writing instruction are to inform and to nurture.  A creative writing professor is responsible for teaching students the conventions of their chosen genres and assisting them in sampling important and individually relevant works in the same traditions.  A creative writing professor must also help nurture students’ individual creative talents.  The two principal means of achieving these goals are the creative writing workshop and individual mentoring.

As the late poet Richard Hugo put it, “the creative writing workshop is one of the few places where what goes on really matters.”  The story, poem, or essay a student shares with a workshop should express the student’s deepest sense of how things are, the nature of her own experience, his relationship with the world.  For this reason, writers of all races, genders, and ethnic backgrounds should feel comfortable and encouraged in the classroom, and it is the workshop leader’s responsibility to maintain such an atmosphere.  Any piece of writing that expresses eloquently a writer’s vision will have implications for human action, will make the reader feel or think about the world in different ways.  As a workshop leader, I insist that we all try to be disinterested readers, to take each work on its own terms, regardless of our individual tastes, views, or political values.  While I accept in principle the postmodern notion that all writing is political, as a creative writer I also insist that writing is not only political.  I believe that by its nature, creative writing resists any notion of political correctness, liberal or conservative.  That doesn’t mean that creative writing cannot express ideologies (much great writing does), nor that as readers we should accept the values that underlie every story, poem, or essay.  It means that in the creative writing workshop we are concerned first and foremost with form, the way the thing is made.  As teachers, our main task is to help the author shape the story, poem, or essay into its best, most functional form in order to achieve its own intentions, whatever they are.  As Huddle puts it, “to make the thing beautiful, no matter who reads it.”

Literary Awards:
Friends of American Writers First Prize Award, The Automotive History of Lucky Kellerman, 1988.
Book of the Month Club (“Pick of the Paperbacks”), The Automotive History of Lucky Kellerman, 1988.
Quality Paperback Book Club, The Automotive History of Lucky Kellerman,1988-89.
O. Henry Prize Story Awards:  “The Crow Woman” (1985), “The Summer Game” (1979)
Pushcart Prize “Special Mention” List:     “Good Advice” (1989),  “Father’s Mechanical Universe” (1991), “Dreams of Heaven” (1993), “The Fifty Foot Woman” (1994)
NEA Individual Fellowship Grant in Fiction Writing, 1980.
Fern Chertkow Memorial Award for Fiction for “Invading the Temple,” Great Stream    Review, 1991.
Kansas Artist Fellowship in Fiction, 1991.
Kansas Governor’s Arts Award, 1996.
Resident Fellow, Yaddo Colony, 1980.

Teaching Awards:
Mortar Board Senior Honor Society, “Outstanding Teacher, Advisor, and Mentor, Kansas State University”:  1998.
William L. Stamey Undergraduate Teaching Award (College of Arts & Sciences, Kansas State University):  1990, 1993.
Student Association of Graduates in English, Outstanding Graduate English Faculty Award, Kansas State University:  1988.

  • The 1947 and 1951 pineapple strikes on the Hawaiian island of Lana`i
  • The fiction and poetry of Herman Melville
  • Memory and imagination in storytelling
  • Creative writing pedagogy
  • Low-residency MFA in Creative Writing programs

Publications (Books):
What We Choose to Remember  (nonfiction narratives), Serving House Books
Father’s Mechanical Universe (novel), BkMk Press
The Automotive History of Lucky Kellerman (novel), Chelsea Green/Anchor-Doubleday
The Man Who Drank a Thousand Beers (short stories), Chariton Review Press

Publications (Fiction and Nonfiction in the following magazines and journals):
Anthologies:  Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards, The PEN Short Story Collection, Living Blue in the Red States, In Brief, Passages to the Dream Shore, These and Other Lands, Arts Review, others
Print Magazines and Journals:  Fourth Genre, Manoa, Colorado Review, The Chariton Review, New Letters, Spirit of Aloha, Cimarron Review, Texas Review, San Francisco Chronicle, Kansas City Star, Newsday, AIM: America’s Intercultural Magazine, Hayden’s Ferry, South Dakota Review, Laurel Review, American Literary Review, Rocky Mountain News, Literary Magazine Review, Southern California Anthology, many others
Online Journals:  Perigree, Mixed Nerve, Oklahoma Review, Living Waters, Rain Tiger, PIF (Poetry, Interviews, Fiction), others

Board of Directors, Association of Writers & Writing Programs, 2009-12
“Emerging Voices” Mentor, PENCenterUSA
Subject Specialist and Accreditation Team, Distance Training and Education Commission (DETC), Washington, D.C., 2010-present

Residency Faculty Seminars:
“The Two-Faced Author:  Transforming Life into Story”
“Scene, Summary, and the Rhetoric of the Fictive Voice”
“Where Do Stories Come From?”
“The Literary Half-Life:  Balancing Writing and Teaching as a Dual Career”
“The Point of Points of View”
“How to Push Through the Story:  Poetics for Prose Writers”
“Writing Outside Your Own Skin:  How to Depict the Other in Stories True and Imagined”
“What We Choose to Remember:  Memory and Imagination in Story-Making”