The fiction editors, Rappahannock Review: “Heartbox,” like some of the stories in your recently published chapbook The Kind of Girl, seems to deal heavily with the unavoidable presence of family, even in adult life. How has your experience with your own family influenced your work?
Kim Henderson: I wrote “Heartbox” after losing my father, and though it is very fictional, it sprung from facing the overwhelming task of figuring out how to carry on as if my days had meaning.
I had never noticed how much my work dealt with family, perhaps because for me familial relationships are a given, a part of life that may be challenging and complicated at times, but that I also need, and that thankfully doesn’t really require a second thought. No matter how frustrating or complicated or difficult family members may be (or how frustrating you are to them!), it doesn’t matter; you’re family. There are, of course, people with the ability (or survival technique?) to drop, disown and disconnect from family, which also interests me—the ways in which we fail each other, damage each other, or otherwise fall short on taking care of each other.
I think that no matter what the relationship is like, your family members greatly shape you, and you them, and no matter how much life separates you, you will ultimately find yourselves back together at critical moments in life, if not in person then in spirit. Some people say war stories are especially powerful because it is in war that people’s true nature is revealed; perhaps the same could be said of family.
RR: If your own heart could be made out of anything, what would it be?
KH: I’d want my heart to be made out of something that regenerates if broken, like a worm or a lizard tail.
RR: As a writer and instructor at Idyllwild Arts Academy, what are your thoughts on the relationship between teaching and writing?
KH: I teach high school students who come to Idyllwild Arts specifically to study writing, so I am very lucky to teach what I love and to work with students who are passionate and dedicated. I find that much of the time, my writing fuels my teaching and my teaching fuels my writing. I am often energized by my students’ excitement and willingness to experiment, and whenever I am learning something new or facing a fresh challenge as a writer, my experiences bleed into my teaching. I think and hope that staying engaged as a teacher and writer keeps me from becoming stagnant in each area. And it is, of course, a balancing act—good time management is required to keep up with both.
RR: Where would you say your heart is stored?
KH: I would say I store my heart in stories.
RR: Did you have one teacher who particularly pushed you in your writing / took an interest in you / inspired you? How did he / she affect your path as a writer?
KH: Yes—actually, there are two who stand out. In Mrs. Price’s fourth grade class, we would do “squiggles,” where she would draw a doodle on the board and we would copy it in our notebooks, then turn the doodle into a drawing and write a story to accompany it. I still have a notebook full of these somewhere. Mrs. Price really encouraged each student in his or her strengths, and I remember her encouraging my writing. I saw her years later when I was briefly substitute teaching in my hometown and she was working as a math specialist for the school district, and she came into the classroom and put a hand on my shoulder and told the students, “Man, this girl could write!” I think it says a lot about her as a teacher that she remembered my fourth-grade squiggles, and it of course meant a lot to me that she remembered.
The other teacher who had a major effect on my writing path was Daniel Mueller, a creative writing professor at UNM. He served as a good example of a writer who took his teaching seriously, plus he taught me to line edit like no other. He introduced me to all sorts of books outside of class, loaning me copies from his personal library. He pretty much insisted that I go to graduate school to study writing, and walked me through the process of researching programs and applying. He inspired me artistically, yet also affected my writing path in practical ways.
In both cases, the teachers were present in the classroom and in their interactions with students. Both teachers made me feel like my work (and I) mattered. This is what I try to give to my students.
“Heartbox” appears in Rappahannock Review Issue 1.3
Kim Henderson is the author of The Kind of Girl, which won the Seventh Annual Rose Metal Press Short Short Chapbook Contest. Her stories have appeared in Tin House, H_NGM_N, Cutbank, Tupelo Quarterly, River Styx, The Southeast Review, New South, and elsewhere. She lives with her husband on a mountain in Southern California, where she chairs the Creative Writing program at Idyllwild Arts Academy.