Henderson reads Up From the Blue

Susan Henderson reads an excerpt from her book in the Giant Eagle Auditorium last Thursday. (credit: Tommy Hofman | Assistant Photo Editor) Susan Henderson reads an excerpt from her book in the Giant Eagle Auditorium last Thursday. (credit: Tommy Hofman | Assistant Photo Editor)

The creative writing department offered its first speaker of the year this past Thursday when Susan Henderson, a creative writing alumna from the Class of ’89, came to Giant Eagle Auditorium to give a reading of the first chapter of her debut novel. Henderson’s reading was part of the Adamson Visiting Writer series, a year-long series held to showcase writers from all genres of work.

Jim Daniels, an published poet and faculty member in the English department, described Henderson as a “powerful writer” in his introduction to the reading. While a student at Carnegie Mellon, Henderson’s study focus was in poetry. After receiving her master’s degree from Vanderbilt University, Henderson moved into the world of professional writing, where she has remained since. She has received the Academy of American Poets award for her work; however, in recent years she has changed her focus from poetry to fiction. She has since been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize, one of the most honored awards in the literary field.

While introducing Henderson, Daniels recalled an anecdote from his workshop class in days past when Henderson was still a student: “There were four couples in that class — and Susan. They all broke up,” he said with a laugh. “Only Susan remained.”
Henderson’s novel, Up From the Blue, is set in 1975 on an Air Force base and centers around a young girl named Tillie Harris. In the novel’s central struggle, Tillie is cast against the backdrop of a rapidly deteriorating home life alongside the issue of her mother’s sudden disappearance — an event that will impact her for years to come.

Up From the Blue makes a powerful statement about the nature of family crisis and conflict — and the difficulty of looking back at hard times in one’s life. “It was about writing from a broader viewpoint — a different angle,” Henderson said. The novel was recently chosen as a 2010 Great Group Reads selection and has since received critical acclaim, a monumental achievement for a debut work.

At the reading’s start, Henderson explained up front that she was naturally shy in front of audiences; adding to this, she apologized in advance for “shaking hands.” Writing, she explained, has always given her the courage to “[stay] in the room when I had the urge to flee.” The reading was followed by a small reception in the Gladys Schmitt Creative Writing Center in Baker Hall accompanied by a book signing. Attendants were invited to meet with the author and ask questions over pizza and drinks.

Henderson also writes for LitPark, an online literary blog, and is the curator of NPR’s “DimeStories.” She occasionally blogs for The Huffington Post and has been featured in literary journals such as Zoetrope, A Journal of Delta Studies, and Amazon Shorts. She currently lives in New York with her husband, a drama professor, and their two sons.

The Adamson series will continue with Phillip Lopate on Wednesday, Oct. 27. To follow up on the rest of the Adamson Writers series, check out the English department website calendar at www.cmu.edu/hss/english/events.