I have been meaning to write for some time now about Michael Heim, the scholar, translator, and UCLA professor who died at the end of September. Michael was not just a brilliant linguist, translator, reader, and writer. He was also––as the outpouring of stories about him since his death underscores––quite simply an amazing human being.
Michael’s kindness and generosity touched many people, including me. Indeed, it is in no small part thanks to his kindness and encouragement that my book, A Common Strangeness, saw the light of day.
I first met Michael in Auckland, New Zealand, at the “Poetics of Exile” conference convened by Mike Hanne of the University of Auckland in July 2003. I still recall vividly meeting and talking with Michael at Mike Hanne’s Karekare Beach house. On learning that my wife and I were soon to travel to the United States and would be passing through Los Angeles, Michael invited us to come to dinner during our stopover. Later that year, Michael visited us in Boston, and he and his wife Priscilla welcomed me into their home again on a subsequent visit to UCLA in 2004.
Later, Michael was one of the readers of my book manuscript for Fordham University Press. Thanks to his report for Fordham, it was not only his example of transcending literary borders and languages but also his insightful comments and feedback that helped shape A Common Strangeness.
I last saw Michael in early 2011 in Los Angeles. I understand now that by then he already knew that he was unwell. But of course, he mentioned nothing about himself, talking instead only of my work and of his students.
I felt and still feel extraordinarily lucky to have known Michael and to have benefited from his generosity. It was only recently, however, that I came to understand that Michael touched so many lives in this way. Boris Dralyuk, for instance, has written movingly about Michael’s warmth and encouragement to him as a young student and literary translator. It seems ridiculous for me to try to convey a sense of Michael, when so many others, such as Boris, have known him better and can write more eloquently. But I wanted here at least to add my name to the long list of people that Michael touched during his extraordinary life.