Denver poet, executive director of Lighthouse Writers Workshop, and Buffalo area native Michael Henry is coming to town! Before I tell you the whole long story of why this is so exciting (because you know there’s a story, right?), here is the event information. Consider this an official invite for all you Buffalo peeps to join me as Mike reads from his collection of poetry, No Stranger Than My Own, at Talking Leaves next week.
Reading Event Details:
Michael Henry at Talking Leaves Books
Thursday, May 13, 7:00 PM
3158 Main Street
Buffalo, NY, 14214
Now, for the whole long story…
Why Twenty Boy Summer Fans Should Show a Little Love for the Lighthouse Poet
Mike Henry is the reason I write young adult books.
I mean, yeah, I know was born to do it and everything, but if it wasn’t for Mike, I don’t know that I would’ve found my way to the YA section in time to figure that out. Judy Blume aside, most of the books I read as a teen were the stuff of nightmares: V.C. Andrews, Mary Higgins Clark, Stephen King, Robin Cook, and the few adult romance novels I could sneak from the library into my room in a doubled-up Super Duper grocery bag. I’d spent my entire young life reading and writing everything but YA, hiding behind marketing communications jobs that skirted the edge of writing without forcing me to bare my creative soul in public. It was never enough, though.
Here’s the part where the movie voice-over kicks in…
In a world where artists are afraid to bare their creative souls in public, a formerly closeted writer pulls off a death-defying stunt to get her work noticed, and in facing her very public humiliation, discovers the path to her literary dreams…
It was 2003. We’d just moved from New York City to Denver and, in keeping with the new beginnings theme, I’d promised myself I’d sign up for a writers workshop. I Googled “Denver writing groups” and stumbled onto an excerpt about growing up in Buffalo. The author was a Buffalo area native who’d relocated out west and co-founded Lighthouse Writers Workshop, an independent creative writing program in Denver. Well, you all know how I am about signs, right? Right. So I signed up immediately for Mike’s next class: a memoir and personal essay workshop. I was 27 years old.
This is the part where the VH-1 voice-over kicks in…
But then things turned tragic for the band…
I was the youngest person in the class and, in my own opinion, had no business writing a memoir. I’d never done a critique workshop before. Never reviewed anyone’s writing and never willingly put my own out there for public response. All of the writers in that room were so talented, especially Mike, and he’d kick off each class with a 15-minute freewrite during which group members produced better stuff than I could cull from two decades of poems and journals. I lost a lot of weight that semester—I was totally on the nerve diet.
On the day of my critique, I thought I might pass out. Maybe I did, and I just hallucinated the whole thing. Writers weren’t allowed to talk during their own critique, so I just had to sit there and take whatever came. Was I immature? Did I lack style and substance? Was I a no-talent hack? I held my breath and prepared for the attack. But the writers in my class—the ones I’d spent the first half of the semester alternately admiring and feeling unnecessarily intimidated by—were so supportive, encouraging, and amazing. They liked my stuff. They actually liked my stuff!
When I left class that night, I was overjoyed. My smile was fixed; my head was in cloud central. I guess that’s how it happened, just as I waved goodnight to Mike Henry in the parking lot. Well, I was waving. Turns out Mike’s gestures loosely translated as, “Dude! You’re about to hit that telephone pole! STOP!” And here I thought his semi-jumping, two-handed flailing was just a little extra encouragement for the ride home: “See you next time, you shining, literary superstar!”
Ugh. I dented and scratched up my car, and I nearly died (of embarrassment, anyway), all because someone whose writing I’d admired had complimented mine. Ah, the things we do for art!
After class the following week, Mike pulled me aside to discuss one of my pieces—an essay I’d written recounting some trouble my BFF and I got into when we were fifteen involving some makeup and two power-trippy store security guards. He said the essay had a great teen voice and asked if I’d ever considered writing for young adults. Nope. I hadn’t really considered anything at that point—I just knew that I loved writing, had to write, would write anything. Mike told me that Lighthouse had a YA novel class with Jenny Itell starting up soon; he encouraged me to check it out. So I did. Four times in a row.
Looking back on the night of the telephone pole incident, I like to think that Mike saw a lot of unrefined potential in me. A wayward writer with a natural talent and passion on the page—someone who just needed a little guidance to find her true artistic footing. Maybe he just saw me as a liability and wanted me out of his class. Whatever his motives, Mike set me on the path to YA literature—something I’d never before considered. In the Lighthouse YA class, I read Laurie Halse Anderson, Deb Caletti, Sarah Dessen. I wrote and revised. I read and critiqued. I practiced. Under Jenny’s guidance, I wrote Twenty Boy Summer, and I found my voice—my right place on the bookshelves.
And the rest, says the movie voice-over, is literary history.
It’s been seven years since the telephone pole incident and my first class at Lighthouse, and almost three since I last saw Mike. And now he’s coming to Buffalo, and I won’t miss it (or drive into it. Maybe I should walk, just to be safe)!
I can’t wait for Mike to share his latest collection of poetry, No Stranger Than My Own, at our hometown indie next Thursday. If you’re in the area, please join me at Talking Leaves Main Street to show your support for this talented writer and artist. See you there!