Heithaus, a South Bend native, earned his master's in fine arts from Indiana University in poetry. He went on to earn his PhD in American literature from Indiana University as well.
For the past 15 years Heithaus has taught literature at DePauw. During that time he was lucky enough to be able to write poetry often.
After years of sending poems out to magazines and dealing with his fair share of rejection, Heithaus has appeared in such publications as New York Quarterly, The Nation, American Poetry Journal as well as several others.
"I've been sending out poems to magazines for a long time," explained Heithaus. "I've been published in some pretty cool places."
Getting published in several prestigious magazines was just one thing that Heithaus had hopes of checking off his list of goals in life.
"I've been trying for a book for almost a decade," said Heithaus. "I've had a manuscript in circulation for many years."
Getting a book published is no easy task. Thousands of poets each year enter contests in hopes of winning an award that may make their dreams come true and thousands get rejected.
"In many ways it's a funny thing, if you don't win a contest you don't get your book published," said Heithaus.
Recently, Heithaus had the honor of being chosen as one of five poets to have their work displayed at the new Indianapolis airport. He was chosen among more than 1,000 contestants.
"You had to write a poem regarding flight," explained Heithaus. "The winning poems would be featured on a huge stained glass window at the airport."
After winning the contest, Heithaus made connections with several of the winners such as former Indiana Laureates Joyce Brinkman and Northbert Krapf, as well as Ruthelean Burns.
They met monthly and called themselves "The Airpoets." Not only did they meet to discuss poetry but they also published two books together, "Rivers, Rails and Runways" as well as "Airmail."
Through the publishing of the two books, the Airpoets had the honor of reading at the Library of Congress.
It was through the Airpoets that Heithaus met one of his most valuable assets, Krapf. The former Indiana Poet Laureate connected Heithaus to his former book publisher at WordTech Editions.
"WordTech is a husband and wife who publish poetry for profit," said Heithaus. "They publish almost 50 poetry books a year."
Although, Heithaus has been published before, nothing beats the thrill of having your very own first book published.
"Poetry can be sort of a frustrating art," explained Heithaus. "There's a lot of rejection, but I've been unbelievably lucky."
Heithaus was also awarded the 2007 honor of Discovery/The Nation Prize for a group of ten "Poison Sonnets". It was through this award that he got published in The Nation as well as invited to speak at the 92nd Street Y. It was here that many distinguished people and great artists have performed such as T.S. Eliot, Bill Clinton, Joyce Carol Oates and many others.
"Between winning the thing at the airport and winning the Discovery prize I've been very lucky," said Heithaus. "It's hard to describe how it feels. I'm still trying to make sense of it."
After years of struggling to find his way, Heithaus can breath a sigh of relief. He is finally seeing the results he dreamed of.
Heithaus' poems are featured all over Greencastle and Putnam County. They can be viewed on the sides of barns, at the Blue Door Café as well as the Putnam County Public Library. After years of taking baby steps, it just felt right to finally take the leap he was waiting for.
"I feel a great sense of responsibility to poetry in general to do a good job," said Heithaus. "The Greencastle, Putnam County and DePauw University community have always sort of believed in me. That's a pretty priceless thing."
After encouraging a student to write a series of sonnets, Heithaus decided to turn the assignment and do it for himself as well, inspired by illustrations of poison plants in an old Webster's Dictionary.
The book features 54 sonnets, which explore the nature of poison and celebrating the complexities of language. Several of these sonnets have been featured in such magazines as Poetry and American Poetry Journal.
Heithaus will be speaking at the Putnam County Public Library on Thursday, Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. He will read selections from "Poison Sonnets," which will be followed by a reception and book signing.
Books can be bought at the event as well as from Amazon and Barnes & Nobel for $18.
For more information on Heithaus visit www.joeheithaus.com.