Paul Hetherington was born in Adelaide in 1958, one of twin sons of Robert and Penelope Hetherington (née Loveday). His family moved from Adelaide to Perth in 1966. His father worked as a political scientist at the University of Adelaide and The University of Western Australia, and was subsequently a Western Australian politician in the Western Australian Legislative Council. His mother worked as a historian at The University of Western Australia. He has a younger sister, Naomi, as well as his twin brother, Mark.
Hetherington was educated at The University of Western Australia, completing a double major in English and History and sharing three student prizes in his honours year: the Gladys I Wade Prize, the James Bourke Memorial Prize and the Convocation Prize in Arts. He subsequently completed a PhD on Emily Dickinson, entitled '"The Representative of the Verse": Death, Crisis and Versions of the Self in the Poetry of Emily Dickinson'. In the late 1970s and early 1980s he was involved as a performer, writer and director in amateur theatre – at The University of Western Australia, at Pit Theatre and at Frances Coffee Shop. In 1985 he married Michelle Frances Combs, now a Senior Curator at the National Museum of Australia, after living as her partner since 1980. They have two daughters, Suzannah and Rebecca.
Before moving to Canberra in 1990, to take up a position at the National Library of Australia, Hetherington worked as a sessional tutor in the English Department at the University of Western Australia (1985-88) and in 1989 was employed at Fremantle Arts Centre as Publications and Events Coordinator. Part of this job saw him take on the role of the editor of Fremantle Arts Review. Subsequently, he was the founding editor of the quarterly humanities journal Voices (1991-1997). Hetherington edited National Library of Australia News from 1990-2009 and was the National Library's publisher from 1994-1999. In 1999 became responsible for an expanded Publications and Events Branch (1999-2009) and was responsible for diversifying and developing the Library’s websites and events program. This included inaugurating a program of major conferences on literary and cultural topics with the ‘Challenging Australian History: Discovering New Narratives’ conference, 14-15 April 2000.
Primarily a poet, Hetherington also edited and introduced The Diaries of Donald Friend Volume 2, The Diaries of Donald Friend Volume 3, and The Diaries of Donald Friend Volume 4 (qq.v) and has written numerous academic articles, mainly about poetry, prose poetry and the lyric essay. He has reviewed literary works (primarily poetry) for Australian Book Review (ABR), Times Literary Supplement, the Sydney Review of Books, and Cordite Poetry Review. In 2010 he moved to the University of Canberra to take up the position of Assistant Professor of Writing in the Faculty of Arts and Design. He was promoted to Associate Professor at the end of his first year there, and became a full professor in January 2015. With Distinguished Professor Jen Webb he founded the international online journal Axon: Creative Explorations (2011-) (http://www.axonjournal.com.au/) and he also founded the International Poetry Studies Institute (IPSI) (2013-) (https://www.canberra.edu.au/research/faculty-research-centres/cccr/ipsi), which he heads. He is a founding editorial committee member of the Meniscus journal (2013-) (http://www.meniscus.org.au/). He was chair of the Australasian Association of Writing Programs (AAWP) from 2011-2012.
Hetherington has been a member of a variety of Boards, including the Board of ABR, and was a judge for the 2006, 2007 and 2008 ABR poetry prizes and the 2007 CAL/ABR Calibre Essay Prize. He was a member of the steering committee that established the ACT Writers Centre (1994-95) and Chair of the inaugural ACT Writers Centre’s Committee of Management (1995-98). He is a former Deputy Chair of the ACT's Word Festival (1993-95) and has served on the ACT Cultural Council’s Literature Committee (1998; 2002). He was Chair of the ACT’s Festival Fund Committee, overseeing the funding process for the ACT’s major annual program of festivals (2003-06; 2008) and Chair of the ACT Public Art Expert Advisory Panel, the ACT Government’s principal advisory body on public art (2006-11). In 2005 he was appointed Chair of the ACT Cultural Council, the ACT Government’s principal advisory body on the arts (2005-13). For four years he was the ACT member of the National Liaison Group for the Australian Poetry Centre (2007-10). He has also served on the boards of Belconnen Arts Centre (2012-15) and Manning Clark House (2011-), where he has been Deputy Chair since 2013.
As of 2017, Hetherington has published 11 volumes of poetry (and, more recently, prose poetry), including a verse novel, Blood and Old Belief, and five chapbooks. He has won or been shortlisted for numerous poetry awards in Australia and internationally. He founded the international Prose Poetry Group in 2013 as one of IPSI’s activities and has collaborated on creative and scholarly projects with a number of writers and academics including Jen Webb, Anita Fitton, Antonia Pont, Rachel Robertson, David McCooey, Cassandra Atherton, and Phil Day.
Paul Kane has written: 'One of the first things one notices about Hetherington's poetry is the confluence of form and manner: his poems incline to classical verse schemes - sonnets, quatrains, balanced stanzas - while his style is similarly lucid in voice, diction and image. This felicitous combination gives his poems the feel of poise, intelligence, grace and finish'.
'"In this expansive and exciting collection Hetherington moves with power and grace through an impressive range of form and content. The poems burst with tense and detailed images shot through with meditations on grief absence and hope. The work in Burnt Umber is always controlled and full of colour. Here is a poet at the height of his powers singing what it means to be alive." - Professor Nigel McLoughlin, University of Gloucestershire
'"Somehow this collection landed seamlessly each section each page each poem aligned perfectly. Burnt Umber is a collection of precision and clarity and handstitched joy." - Professor Andrew Melrose, Winchester University' (Publication summary)