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Author Nathan Heard Dies

Author Nathan Heard, whose five novels drew from his experiences in prison and on the tough streets of Newark, has died at the age of 67.

Heard died Tuesday at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, The Sunday Star-Ledger of Newark reported.

Heard's writing career started in New Jersey State Prison in Trenton while serving seven years for armed robbery. He started reading soft-core pornographic novels passed to him by a cellmate, said H. Bruce Franklin, a professor at Rutgers University, where Heard later taught creative writing.

Heard, who dropped out of high school after the 10th grade, believed he could do a better job and started writing about his old neighborhood. His mother showed the manuscript to his lawyer, who got the novel published.

His 1968 debut, "Howard Street," sold more than 1 million copies and was acclaimed for its gritty realism and insight into the urban black experience.

Heard "was a leading force in fiction because he showed how writers could take a real experience and transform it into a useful vision," said poet Amiri Baraka, a friend.

Heard's daughter said he used to list "New Jersey State Prison" under the education section of his resume.

"He wore his prison time as a badge because while he was in prison that's where he grew up, and that's where he became a man," Natalie Heard said.

Heard also wrote "A Cold Fire Burning, "House of Slammers," "To Reach a Dream" and "When Shadows Fall."

He also taught creative writing at Fresno State University, where he won a teaching award in 1970, and appeared in several films, including the 1973 movie "Gordon's War."