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Heather Neff

Born in Akron, Ohio,

Heather Mayson Neff's family moved to Detroit when she was in her teens. After graduating from Cass Technical High School, where she studied music, Neff earned a Bachelor’s Degree in English with High Distinction from the University of Michigan. Neff went on to study French language and culture at the Sorbonne, University of Paris. She earned her Lizentiat and Doctoral degree in English Language and Literature, Comparative Literature and French Linguistics at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. Her dissertation, Redemption Songs: Protest  in the Poetry of Afro-Americans, was published as part of the series Swiss Studies in English (Franke Verlag, 1990).


While living in Switzerland, Neff served as a corporate trainer at Shell Oil, Swiss Air, and worked as a translator and language coach for Condor Film Productions. Neff subsequently spent two years in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, where she taught at the University of the Virgin Islands and St. Joseph High School. Neff joined the faculty in the Department of English at Eastern Michigan University in 1993. She served as Director of Eastern Michigan University's McNair Scholars Program from 2010 until her retirement in December of 2021.

The author of ten novels, Neff's Blackgammon (2000) recounts the lives of two women: Chloe, a celebrated artist in Paris, and her younger friend, Michael, who lives out a tempestuous marriage in England.

Wisdom (2001), set in St. Croix, is a novel of lost heritage, love, and one woman's fight for land -- and her life. Wisdom received a Fiction Honor Book Award from the American Library Association.


Accident of Birth (2005) examines the troubled cultural relationship between Africans and African Americans through the decades-long love of a young American woman for her Liberian classmate.

Haarlem (2006) has won high acclaim for its examination of addiction and recovery through the tale of a New Yorker who travels to Amsterdam in search of his long-lost mother, only to discover completely unknown and unexpected truths about himself. 

Set in modern-day Morocco, Leila: The Weighted Silence of Memory (2009) is a harrowing story of modern-day human trafficking. Leila II: The Moods of the Sea (2015) follows the slow rebirth of a survivor of unwilling domestic servitude. Neff's Blissfield, an intense, multi-generational love story about intimate partner violence and its effect on children, was published in early 2019.


Saffron Bloom (2022), largely set in 1980s Detroit, tells the tale of two very different men vying for the love of a woman as she fights to forge the most powerful and passionate version of herself.


Neff's Alex Paradise & Domino (2023) is a crime novel centered on the serial murders of young Black women on the campus of an elite private college. Alex Paradise & the Ubuntu Stone (2024) continues Alex's saga as she is hunted by the campus killer. During her flight Alex aligns herself with a band of courageous warriors with a mission of their own.


Neff's short story collection, Lilith and Other Loves (forthcoming in 2024) includes twelve love stories in settings as stunning as the Greek islands, Paris, the Caribbean, and southern California. Intensely joyful, yet sometimes bittersweet, Neff's stories capture the complex, richly challenging faces of love.


Neff's poetry has appeared in three chapbooks, The Paris Hours, Vespers, and Kairos.

Neff has been honored with many teaching awards, including Eastern Michigan University's Distinguished Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching, the institution's highest instructional honor. The recipient of the EMU Alumni Association’s Teaching Excellence Award, Neff has also twice earned the Holman Success Center’s Outstanding Faculty in the Classroom Award. The recipient of the university's 2006 Artistic Recognition Award, in 2007 Neff was named a Michigan Distinguished Professor by the Presidents' Council of the State Universities of Michigan.

Neff was also recognized for her service to Eastern Michigan University and the larger community, receiving the Inaugural Cornerstone Legacy Award (EMU Center of Race and Ethnicity), a Woman of Excellence Award (EMU Women’s Center), Strong Black Woman Award (Iota Phi Theta), W.E.B. Du Bois Award (NAACP), Faculty Excellence Award (EMU Enrollment and Student Services), Faculty of the Year Award (Delta Kappa Gamma), Honored Faculty Award (YBBW Service Organization), and an Educator of the Year Award (African American Educators of the Future). 


She received an Honored Faculty Award (Intercollegiate Athletics), Image Award (NAACP), Ally Award (LGBT Resource Center), three additional Cornerstone Awards (EMU Center of Race and Ethnicity), Advocate Award (Outstanding Nonprofit Leadership Alliance), Founders Day Award (EMU),  Appreciation Award (EMU Student Government), Hero of the Year Award (Hero Nation Ypsilanti), the Edith Penn Teaching Recognition (AlphaKappa Alpha Sorority), Best Friend of Girl Scouting Award (Huron Valley Council) , and an EMU Gold Medallion.


Neff's portrait is included on the Unity Mural in EMU's McKenny Hall.

The author founded Whittaker Road Works, a writing group originally housed in the Ypsilanti District Library. She has edited four anthologies of writing by the group, Departures (2016), Taking Flight (2018), Soaring (2020) and Horizons (2021). Neff also edited eleven volumes of the Eastern Michigan University McNair Scholars Research Journal (2011-2021)encompassing ninety-five faculty-mentored articles written by students representing all academic disciplines.      


Named a Professor Emerita by Eastern Michigan University, Neff remains very active in her community, and has served with numerous organizations, including the scholarship committee of the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, and the boards of the Ypsilanti Youth Orchestra, Riverside Arts Center, House on the Side of the Road, and the H. Irving Mayson Scholarship Foundation, named for her late father.


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