Remembering Steven Heighton
By Mark Jarman
I met Steven Heighton decades ago at a “Wild Writers” short story conference in Stratford, organized by John Metcalf to bring a new generation of story writers together to create connections. I guess it worked. Steve and I shot pool and chatted and he seemed very down to earth, no airs. We were not close, but stayed in touch; as editor Bethany Gibson said to me the other day, he had a way to make you feel like a good friend. Steve sent me links to his music to see if I could add harmonica and sent me “envious good wishes” when I was hiding from winter in Marseille. Once I stayed at his house in Kingston for the lit-fest and he visited my house when he read at UNB with Nancy Bauer, a boisterous event on Valentine’s Day with a very lively Q&A that continued downhill at the Lunar Rogue pub. The next day he was booked to go by bus to Saint John to read, but I drove him just so we could shoot the breeze on the drive down. I didn’t say anything, but I greatly admired his journey to Greece to work as a volunteer in a transit camp helping refugees from Syria and elsewhere; on this tour he was drawing on this material.
In 2019 he had a slightly spooky story in a very strong Fiddlehead Summer Fiction Issue and he let us know that an earlier story of his from The Fiddlehead was being adapted for film.
Very recently I have been editing for Best Canadian Stories 2022 and Martha Sharpe mentioned a story by Steve, "Instructions for Drowning", published in the Threepenny Review. I chose that story, but I also had my eye on a second piece by Steve; Clarissa Hurley steered me to that one. I emailed Steve to tell him I was taking at least one and he was very happy, but told me he was in the hospital. He tried to keep his illness quiet. In my email I said I had been out walking the nearby golf course and stopped for a pint; he replied that he wished he could join me for a walk and a beer, perhaps when he came out of the other side of this. That was a Saturday. On Tuesday I heard the news from Katia Grubisic that he was dead. That was a shock as he was so fit and I thought there was some hope. The other side.
I’m glad I sent my email to Steve when I did. A walk on the golf course by spring streams, fresh air, a lively pint and conversation; I can be grumpy and don’t always appreciate such simple things, but I will remember Steve’s last message and try to be better in the world. And Biblioasis Press says they are happy to run two pieces by Steve in the anthology as a tribute to his talent; as well, they are publishing his next collection, also titled Instructions for Drowning, and edited by Mr. Metcalf, who brought us together.