Former GV Professor Publishes New Book

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Sabrina Edwards and Ayron Rutan

Renowned poet, literary critic and former Grand Valley State University professor Janet Ruth Heller has published her fourth collection of poems entitled “Nature’s Olympics,” which takes a look at the natural world from Heller’s perspective as a Jewish Feminist from the Midwest. 

Heller has a Ph.D. in English Language and Literature from the University of Chicago and has taught a variety of topics at eight colleges and universities including Michigan State University, Northern Illinois University, Nazareth College, Western Michigan University, Albion College, GVSU, Olivet College and the University of Chicago. She’s also a former president of the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature and is currently the President of the Michigan College English Association. 

“‘Nature’s Olympics’ is a book of concise poems about plants, trees, animals and birds in wilderness areas and in cities,” Heller said. “It focuses on the flora and fauna of the Midwest. ‘Nature’s Olympics’ has four sections dedicated to the different seasons. Poetic forms include haiku, tanka, sonnets and free verse. “Nature’s Olympics” has an accessible style and approach to poetry. I want everyone to be able to read my work, not just people with doctoral degrees in literature.”

Nature has played an important part in Heller’s life. She was influenced by nature early on in life, and that is still one of the major influences in her poetry.

My father used to take me and my siblings for long walks in our neighborhood and in parks,” Heller said. “He taught us the names of trees, birds, animals and star constellations. Dad passed his love of the natural world on to me. Because of my fascination with our environment, I’ve written nature poems since I was in fourth grade.”

These poems were started in 1969 and then finished in 2021. However, the pieces were constantly being reviewed by Heller and the group she was a part of. She was always prepared to write, just in case inspiration struck at any moment.

“Everywhere I go, I take a pen and some paper in case I get an idea for prose or poetry,” Heller said. “Once, one of my doctors was running very late. While I waited over an hour, I wrote a long poem that I later revised and published.”

Heller’s poems cover a wide range of content. Whether that be animals and birds in her backyard, political issues, Supreme Court decisions, bullying, discrimination, feminist issues, sports, education issues, movies, television shows and literature. 

I write best when I feel strongly about a situation,” Heller said. “For example, some classmates bullied me badly when I was a new student in elementary school. “Because I suffered from bullying and discrimination, I have a lot of sympathy for other people who get treated unfairly, and I often write about how we can improve our society and its institutions.”

Heller worked at GVSU from 1990 to 1997 in the English department. She taught creative writing, poetry writing, Shakespeare, linguistics, composition, classical literature and literature for children. While at GVSU Heller was able to find inspiration from meeting other authors and putting together lesson plans. Constantly rereading and analyzing poetry helped Heller with her own works.

Professor Patricia Clark of the English Department invited very good authors to visit GVSU to read their work,” Heller said. “I especially enjoyed the poetry of Jim Daniels and Judith Minty, and I published articles analyzing their books. I’m very glad that I had the opportunity to meet these writers on campus and to hear them present their poems. Their work has influenced my own writing.”

Besides “Nature’s Olympics,” Heller has multiple other works coming up. She also works with multiple nonprofits, working towards social change and equal rights for women in multiple different settings. whether that be generally or in the synagogue.

“I’m working on my fifth book of poetry, which will have several themes and longer poems than in Nature’s Olympics,” Heller said. “In addition, I’m revising more manuscripts of books for children.”