Photo Credit: Darren Goodman

Janet Ruth Heller

b. 1949

Current City, State, Country

Portage, Michigan, USA

Birth City, State, Country

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA


Janet Ruth Heller is the past president of the Michigan College English Association and the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature. She has a Ph.D. in English Language and Literature from the University of Chicago. She has published four poetry books: Nature’s Olympics (Wipf and Stock, 2021), Exodus (WordTech Editions, 2014), Folk Concert: Changing Times (Anaphora Literary Press, 2012), and Traffic Stop (Finishing Line Press, 2011); a scholarly book, Coleridge, Lamb, Hazlitt, and the Reader of Drama (University of Missouri Press, 1990); a middle-grade fiction chapter book for children, The Passover Surprise (Fictive Press, 2015, 2016); and a fiction picture book for children about bullying, How the Moon Regained Her Shape (Arbordale, 2006; 7th edition 2022), that has won four national awards, including a Children’s Choices award. Her play The Cell Phone won fourth place in a national contest and was performed twice at the Fenton Village Players One-Act Play Festival on June 24-25, 2011 in Fenton, Michigan.  Triton College produced another play, Pledging, as part of its Tritonysia Play Festival in May 2017. Choeofpleirn Press published Pledging in Rushing Through the Dark (2022).

Janet has taught literature, women’s studies, composition, and creative writing at Michigan State University, Northern Illinois University, Nazareth College, Western Michigan University, Albion College, Grand Valley State University, Olivet College, and the University of Chicago. She is a founding mother of the Rape Crisis Center in Madison, Wisconsin. She also co-founded the Professional Instructors Organization union at Western Michigan University. She served on the women’s advisory board for the public television station WGVU in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She is also a past president of the Ladies’ Library Association in Kalamazoo, a charitable nonprofit organization devoted to literacy, education, the arts, and culture.

What is the relationship between Judaism and/or Jewish culture and your poetry?

Many of my poems are modern midrashim that retell and bring to modern life the people and events in the Jewish Scriptures. Some of these midrashim are collected in my poetry book Exodus (WordTech Editions, 2014).

I have been active in the Jewish community, serving on synagogue committees and boards, teaching and serving as principal in Jewish religious schools, and chanting prayers, Torah, and haftarah portions for worship services. I have also been active in Sisterhood, serving as the president of my synagogue’s Sisterhood chapter. In my current synagogue, I participate in the Green Team, which strives to make our house of worship environmentally conscious. We have initiated composting, done cleanup of a local river, and installed a charger for electric vehicles. We are trying to get solar panels on our roof. I am also active in writing a new ethical code for my synagogue and tending to departed Jews in my community. My poems often reflect on these activities.

Published Works

Nature’s Olympics (Wipf and Stock, 2021)
Exodus (WordTech Editions, 2014)
Folk Concert: Changing Times (Anaphora Literary Press, 2012)
Traffic Stop (Finishing Line Press, 2011)

Literary Criticism
Coleridge, Lamb, Hazlitt, and the Reader of Drama (University of Missouri Press, 1990)

Children’s Fiction
The Passover Surprise (Fictive Press, 2015, 2016)
How the Moon Regained Her Shape (Arbordale, 2006; 7th edition 2022)

Pledging in the anthology Rushing Through the Dark (Choeofpleirn Press, 2022)

Author Site

Links to Sample Works

Current Title

Past President of the Michigan College English Association


University of Chicago, Ph.D. in English Language and Literature, 1987
University of Wisconsin, Madison.  B.A. with Honors in English Literature, 1971, M.A. in English Literature, 1973.
Oberlin College, Dean’s List, 1967-70

Languages of Publication(s) and Poets Translated

Hebrew: Yehudah Amichai, Rachel Bluwstein, Leah Goldberg, Chaim Guri; and Spanish: Jorge Guillén, Pedro Salinas, and Damaso Alonso

Subject Matter