Illinois State Library

Illinois Center for the Book

Individual Author Record

General Information

Name:  Robert Hellenga  

Pen Name: None

Genre: Fiction

Born: 1941 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

-- Website --
-- Robert Hellenga on WorldCat --

Illinois Connection

Robert Hellenga lives in Galesburg, Illinois and teaches at Knox College.

Biographical and Professional Information

Hellenga was educated at the University of Michigan and Princeton University. He has been a professor of English literature at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, since 1968. He started writing fiction at Knox and published his first story in 1973 and his first novel (after 39 rejections) in 1994.

Published Works Expand for more information

Titles At Your Library

The Sixteen Pleasures
ISBN: 0340618191

Delta / Dell Publishing. 1995

The Fall of a Sparrow
ISBN: 0140277048

Penguin. 2000

Blues Lessons: A Novel
ISBN: 0743225465

Scribner. 2003

In the lush countryside of 1950s Michigan, young Martin Dijksterhuis has everything he could ever want, living among his extended family and working in his family's orchard fields. Despite his mother's plans for him to attend college in Chicago, he has no desire to leave home.
One autumn, in a camp of migrant farm workers, Martin discovers a music that touches him like nothing before -- the unsettling melodies and timeless words of the country blues. He also falls in love with Corinna, the daughter of the black foreman who runs the orchards. He ends up fathering her child, only to lose her in a stunning betrayal. Martin's music and his love for Corinna are the two themes of his life. His struggle to combine them in a single story takes him far from home and the life he had always envisioned for himself, only to bring him back again in a way he could never have imagined.
In this beautifully rendered novel, Robert Hellenga explores the fragility of happiness, the struggle to discover one's true calling in life, and the sorrows and satisfactions of family.

Philosophy Made Simple: A Novel
ISBN: 0316058262

Little, Brown and Company. 2006

Feeling restless after the death of his wife, Rudy Harrington, a father of three grown daughters, leaves his Chicago home to start his life over at an avocado grove in Texas, where he takes up philosophy, presides over his daughter's Hindu wedding, and falls for his son-in-law's mother. 30,000 first printing.

The Italian Lover
ISBN: 0316117633

Little, Brown and Company. 2007

An exhilarating novel of romance, art, and food in Florence, featuring the beloved Margot Harrington, who graced Robert Hellenga's The Sixteen Pleasures. Margot Harrington's memoir about her discovery in Florence of a priceless masterwork of Renaissance erotica - and the misguided love affair it inspired - is now, 25 years later, being made into a movie. Margot, with the help of her lover, Woody, writes a script that she thinks will validate her life. Of course their script is not used, but never mind - happy endings are the best endings for movies, as Margot eventually comes to see. At the former convent in Florence where "The Sixteen Pleasures" - now called "The Italian Lover," - is being filmed, Margot enters into a drama she never imagined, where her ideas of home, love, art, and aging collide with the imperatives of commerce and the unknowability of other cultures and other people.

Snakewoman of Little Egypt: A Novel
ISBN: 1608193225

Bloomsbury USA. 2011

On the morning of his fortieth birthday, anthropology professor Jackson Jones contemplates his future: Should he return to Africa, where he did his fieldwork, and live with the Mbuti, or should he marry and settle down in the Midwestern university town where he now teaches? On the morning of her release from prison, Sunny, who grew up in a snake-handling church in the Little Egypt region of Southern Illinois, rents a garage apartment from Jackson. Sunny and Jackson are drawn to each other, but then push comes to shove in this page-turning novel brimming with wit, substance, emotional depth-a fascinating and original story that delivers Robert Hellenga at the top of his form.

Robert Hellenga was educated at the University of Michigan and Princeton University. He is a professor at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, and the author of the novels The Sixteen Pleasures, The Fall of a Sparrow, Blues Lessons, Philosophy Made Simple, and The Italian Lover. Visit his Web site at

Praise for Snakewoman of Little Egypt:

"Both thoughtful and action-packed...Readers will once again find great pleasure in Hellenga's intelligent, generous-hearted work."-Chicago Tribune

"A masterpiece. Thank you, Mr. Hellenga."-Washington Post Book World

The Confessions of Frances Godwin: A Novel
ISBN: 1620405490

Bloomsbury USA. 2014

The Confessions of Frances Godwin is the fictional memoir of a retired high school Latin teacher looking back on a life of trying to do her best amidst transgressions-starting with her affair with Paul, whom she later marries. Now that Paul is dead and she's retired, Frances Godwin thinks her story is over-but of course the rest of her life is full of surprises, including the truly shocking turn of events that occurs when she takes matters into her own hands after her daughter Stella's husband grows increasingly abusive. And though she is not a particularly pious person, in the aftermath of her actions, God begins speaking to her. Theirs is a deliciously antagonistic relationship that will compel both believers and nonbelievers alike.

From a small town in the Midwest to the Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere in Rome, The Confessions of Frances Godwin touches on the great questions of human existence: Is there something “out there” that takes an interest in us? Or is the universe ultimately indifferent?


Society of Midland Author`s Award for Fiction in 1995. Illinois Art`s Council and PEN Syndicated Fiction Award. ''Snakewoman'' was included in The Washington Post list of best books of 2010 and the Kirkus Reviews list of top 25 novels of 2010.

Speaking Engagements

Speaking Engagement Availability (Yes)

Contact Information Henry Dunow 425 Madison Avenue New York, New York 10017