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In Memoriam: Michael Henry Heim (1943 - 2012)

In Memoriam: Michael Henry Heim (1943 - 2012)

A distinguished professor of the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Michael Heim was an internationally recognized scholar whose translations from a wide array of Slavic and other European languages into English placed him among the foremost ranks of the profession.

It is with great sorrow that the Center for European and Eurasian Studies mourns the loss of Professor Michael Henry Heim on September 29, 2012, when he succumbed to a malicious cancer against which he fought so valiantly with his great passion for life and intellectual verve. Professor Heim was a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures and an affiliated professor of the Department of Comparative Literature. Professor Heim was one of CEES’ most eminent and dedicated members, who long and generously served on the Faculty Advisory Committee and on various fellowship committees. His contributions to scholarship, translation and international literature, and teaching, as well as his university and professional service are an enormous inspiration to us all. We will miss him dearly and honor his memory always.

--Gail Kligman, Director, UCLA Center for European and Eurasian Studies

The community of students and scholars at UCLA mourns the untimely passing of Professor Michael Henry Heim, who succumbed to cancer on September 29, 2012 after a prolonged, valiant struggle. A distinguished professor and former chair (1999-2003) of the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures who taught at UCLA for some forty years, Professor Heim was an internationally recognized scholar whose translations from a dazzling array of Slavic (Russian, Czech, Serbian/Croatian) and other European (Dutch, French, German, Hungarian, Romanian) languages into English placed him in the forefront of our profession.

He was a theorist, a practitioner and a cultural activist, among the finest literary translators of the last half-century and a pioneer in the field of translation studies. His 1975 translation of Chekhov’s letters, reprinted by Northwestern University Press, was praised in the New York Review of Books as the best English guide to Chekhov’s thought. His translation of Kornei Chukovsky’s monumental 600 page "Diary" adds an important witness to the period from 1901 through the period of Soviet power. His translation of Thomas Mann’s "Death in Venice" received the prestigious Helen and Kurt Wolff Translation Prize (2005). Professor Heim’s career in the European field was crowned with his selection, over many distinguished professionals, as the translator of Günter Grass’s Nobel prize-winning work, "My Century." He was again honored when he was commissioned to translate Grass’ memoir, "Peeling the Onion." Although Professor Heim’s reputation rests primarily on his translations, his early scholarly studies of Russian eighteenth-century writers and their philosophies of translation continue to be highly regarded by specialists on Russian Classicism.

Michael Heim was an inspiring teacher and a dedicated mentor who contributed to his students’ intellectual development both in class and outside. Students praise him as a teacher whose door was always open. Students rated his courses, especially the translation workshop he offered in the Department of Comparative Literature, as among the best at UCLA. A former student who benefitted from Heim’s mentoring and is now an Associate Professor of Spanish recalls “uncountable hours of stimulating intellectual” discussions and calls Heim “an unsurpassed model” as a teacher. TAs trained by Heim comment on how much his teaching influenced their own when they became professors.

Michael Heim served on the editorial boards of professional journals and of a translation series published by Northwestern University Press and reviewed manuscripts on a regular basis for major university and commercial publishers in America and Britain.  He served on juries for the National Endowment for the Humanities and was a member of the Executive Board of the American Literary Translators Association. He also served regularly on scholarship and planning committees of leading American Slavic organizations, and organized numerous conferences—local, national and international.

Among the many awards and honors he received during his last decade at UCLA are his induction into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2002), a Guggenheim Fellowship (2005), the Ralph Mannheim Award for a Lifetime in Translation (2009), and the Special Lifetime Scholarly Achievement Award, with which he was honored at the January 2012 AATSEEL convention. Shortly before his passing, he was promoted to the rank of UCLA Distinguished Professor.

Michael earned the profound admiration and affection of students and colleagues alike, and will be sorely missed.

--Ronald Vroon, Professor and Chair, UCLA Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures


I look at my bookshelves and I see Checkov, Kundera, Hrabal, Axyonov, Capek, Esterhazy, Brecht, Ugresic, all of them profound markers and cornerstones of my education, thinking, life, and work, and I feel an awesome gratitude to Michael Henry Heim for bringing them to me. The light that surrounds these books and the power that emanates from them is Michael’s work. Beyond my bookshelves, it is impossible to imagine intelligent American life from the 20th century’s spectacular end until now without his translations. Michael Henry Heim brought us worlds that are now a permanent, natural feature of how we conceive our creative, philosophical, and ethical landscape. There are other great translators, but Michael is a brilliant star among the best of the best. I personally feel that his marvelous American English made my own work feel at home in America. He “naturalized” me in a way that the official ceremony never could. He’s taken a great many readers, students, and statesmen, not just writers, along on voyages of discovery that he made both less alien and necessary without compromising their “otherness.” His body of work has the integrity of any great humanist’s endeavour – it has a permanent living presence, a lasting authority.

--Andrei Codrescu, NPR Commentator and author of So Recently Rent a World: Selected Poems, 1968-2012


We will post links to additional tributes as they are published.

Saying Goodbye to Michael Henry Heim

Michael Henry Heim (1943-2012): translator, teacher, mentor, friend

Michael Henry Heim, "A Happy Babel"


If you wish to make a donation in Professor Heim’s honor, please consider the following organizations, both of which were important to him:

The Pen/Heim Translation Fund


Center for European and Eurasian Studies