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Literary Prestidigitations on Display

15 Questions: An interview with Barbara Henning


Author:  Barbara Henning


BlazeVOX Books: 


Selected Prose of Bobbie Louise Hawkins; Edited by Barbara Henning


Bio: Barbara Henning is the author of three novels, seven books of poetry, as well as a series of photo-poem pamphlets. Her most recent books are Cities and Memory (Chax Press), Looking Up Harryette Mullen: Interviews on Sleeping with the Dictionary and Other Works (Belladonna Series), Thirty Miles to Rosebud (BlazeVOX) and My Autobiography(United Artists). In the nineties, Barbara was the editor of Long News: In the Short Century. Barbara was born in Detroit and moved to New York City in the early eighties. Professor Emerita at Long Island University, Brooklyn Campus, she continues to teach courses for Naropa University, as well as LIU.



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15 Questions

Tell me about your book.

I wrote Thirty Miles to Rosebud over a period of five or more years.   It is fictional story about a narrator who after growing up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, runs away from home with her boyfriend. She then settles in the East Village of New York City.  The novel follows a journey the older narrator takes from NYC, through her hometown and then out west.  She grapples with an early loss of her mother, trying to understand how that has affected her love relations, erotic and familial. This journey is layered with the memory of her earlier journey, and also her trips to India and yogic experiences. 

What influenced this book?


Growing up in the 1960's in Detroit.  The beautiful lonely terrain in the Upper Peninsula where my sister lives.  The highways across the country.  My love of the East Village where I still reside.  The difficulty I have had losing my mother at a young age and dealing with feelings of abandonment.  All my losses, loves and lovers.   The transformation I have made in my life due to studying and practicing yoga and traveling several times to India.  All this wrapped in and around a fiction. 

Where does this book fit into your career as a writer?

I am a poet who has written three novels.  This is the third novel.   I like to think that each novel I write, I learn from the others about form and voice.  I hope to write a few more novels.

If you had to convince a friend or colleague to read this book, what might
you tell them?

Well, they could definitely learn more about me and the places I've lived and passed through.  And it's a good read, fluid and I have been told that it is inspiring and poetic.   

Tell me about the last literary reading you attended.

I usually go to at least one or two readings a week.  The last reading I attended was yesterday at Sidewalk Cafe, a group of MFA students from the program at Long Island University were reading their poems and stories.  

When did you realize you we're a writer?

In the mid-seventies, I was a student in a graduate program at Wayne State University.  I was writing poems, reading in cafes and bars, and publishing them in Detroit journals. 

Tell us about your process: Pen and Paper, computer, notebooks ... how do
you write?  

Usually I keep a handwritten journal, writing in it every night.   Usually when this journal is complete, it becomes the seed for a project.  My novel, You, Me and the Insects was first written as a 60 page journal that later was turned into a 300 page novel.  Most of my poems and small fictions start in my journal and then intersect with other texts and experiments.   Thirty Miles to Rosebud was a plotted novel, that was constantly replotted and reinvented as I went along.   I wrote it on the computer and then made many many hard copies as I wrote and rewrote and even worked into the prose some of my poetic sequences, here revised for the novel.   


How do you handle a bad review of your work? 

I am unhappy for a short time, but I try to tell myself, this is only one person's reading. 

What's the biggest mistake you've made as a writer?

I try not to think of mistakes I've made, but to accept my past as the path to where I am today.   I enjoy writing, teaching and being with the people in my life.

What's the worst advice you hear authors give writers?


Once when I was living in Tucson for a few years, I was invited to MFA tea for the University of Arizona students, along with the other writer.   She told the students to never publish any of their early work; they would be embarrassed later.   I told the students that what seems to me to be most important is to live a poetic life and create poetic culture (for fiction writers, too);  get together and form a collective, start a magazine, a reading series, be politically active with their writing.  

What scares you the most?

What is inevitable, losing those I love. 

Where do you buy your books?

In bookstores, at poetry readings, and on line.   I have way too many books.

Who are you reading now?

Freshman compositions, The Nationtraffic & weather by Marcella Durand, Deep Red Guild by Merry Fortune, Everywhere Here and in Brooklyn by Kristin Prevallet, and Aching for Beauty: Footbinding in Chinaby Wang Ping.