Barbara Henning to Michigander Monday!
Debbie: Barbara, please tell us a little about yourself.
Barbara: I grew up in East Detroit, a suburb of Detroit. I believe it is now called East Pointe. When I was 18 years old I moved into the city and I lived on the Eastside for a few years and then moved downtown to the Cass Corridor where I attended Wayne State University and taught in the English Department. While I was an undergrad and a grad student, I was lucky to work with Charles Baxter and Esther Broner, and a number of other very supportive writers and teachers. In 1983 I moved to New York City where I have lived ever since – except for a year in India and a few years in Tucson, Arizona. One of the wonderful things about living in the East Village in NYC is that I am only a few blocks away from St. Marks Poetry Project, a place where I have read many times and listened to some of the best poets in the country. But I started giving poetry readings in Detroit, at Alvin’s Finer and at the Detroit Art Museum series that George Tysh used to run. I’m a fiction writer and a poet and my writing has been deeply influenced by my childhood and young adult life in Detroit, Michigan. Michigan is a place that is woven into my way of living and thinking. It is present in every book I have written.
Debbie: And, of course, we want to know all about your books.
Barbara: I have written three novels and nine books of poetry, the most recent are two collections of poetry and prose, A Swift Passage (Quale Press 2013) and Cities & Memory (Chax Press 2010); a novel, Thirty Miles to Rosebud (BlazeVOX 2009); and a collection of object-sonnets, My Autobiography (United Artists 2007). One of my first books, Smoking in the Twilight Bar is a collection of prose poems set in the Cass Corridor.
Thirty Miles to Rosebud is a novel that takes place in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and in New York City, with a brief drive through Detroit.
Debbie: Other books or projects on the horizon?
Barbara: A Day Like Today is collection of poems forthcoming from Negative Capability Press in 2015. And I’m working on a new novel.
Debbie: Upcoming appearances?
Barbara: I read every year in Detroit, but nothing is scheduled right now. I’m teaching a workshop in Goshen New York for Poetry on the Loose in a few weeks. Reading in Portland Oregon on March 14, 2015. Setting up a reading in 2015 with the Poetry Project in NYC.
Debbie: Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore? And/or a favorite Michigan library?
Barbara: My favorite library in Detroit is the main library on Woodward Avenue. It is so elegant. They used to have little rooms on the second floor where you could work. I’m not sure if they are still there. When I was living in the Chatsworth Annex, I would hide out there and read and write, day after day. My favorite bookstore was Marwil Books on the corner of Warren and Cass Ave.
Debbie: How about a favorite place in Michigan?
Barbara: I always loved the downtown Detroit River waterfront, sitting there and looking out at Windsor. I know it has changed a lot over the years, but my husband, Allen Saperstein, and I used to take old time photographs of people at the Ethnic Festivals. Also he sold lemonade and popcorn there. We spent a lot of time on the river. I write about the riverfront (and the despair of Detroit at the time) in my novel, Black Lace.
I also love driving over the Mackinaw Bridge into the Upper Penninsula. The span of that bridge over the lake is gorgeous. I cross that bridge a few times in Thirty Miles to Rosebud.
When I’m visiting with relatives in Detroit now, at dusk during warm weather, there is the sound of crickets. I miss the Michigan crickets.
Debbie: Do you have a Michigan event or happening that you love to attend?
Barbara: In the 70’s Allen and I also worked in many fairs in Southern Michigan. The one we loved to work the most was the Ann Arbor Art Fair. I remember when so many hippies came in for that fair and they were sleeping along the edges of the parks. That time is over now, but as a young person, it was exciting.
Debbie: A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?
Barbara: There are many wonderful writers in Detroit, from Detroit. But there is one man on my mind right now, a wonderful old man who used to take photographs in front of the Detroit Art Museum—Art Frasier. He would develop the photos inside an old box camera he had built and sell them for 50 cents. We bought his camera and that was the camera we used when we traveled in the fairs. When I was a young girl, a man would come by my grandmother’s house on Altar Road on a horse to take your photograph. I guess Art was the last of that kind of photographer in the city. He died some years ago and I’m glad to leave his name here. We still have the camera. Here is a link to some of the photos we took in the mid 70’s. Some of the photos were taken on 2nd Avenue on the side of the Bronx Bar, others at the State Fair Grounds (now closed) and some downtown near Cobo Hall. The one with the triangles was taken by Art before we bought the camera.
Debbie: Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about Michigan?
Barbara: Michigan is a land of forests, snow and water, a place where I have camped and hiked, a place where industrial cities were vibrant and then desperate. Now I hear tales of local artists and farmers remaking the landscape of the cities. In Cities and Memories and A Swift Passage I write about Michigan and Detroit and the violence and the beauty.
Debbie: Last question. Some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders, others as Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally, which is the better term: Michigander or Michiganian?
Barbara: I've always been a Michigander.
Debbie: We'll add you to the Michigander column! Barbara, thank you so much for joining us today for Michigander Monday!