Ithaca College Writing Professor Eleanor Henderson Brings Literary Insights Back to Students After Tour for Debut Novel "Ten Thousand Saints"
Ithaca College writing professor Eleanor Henderson spent nine years working on her debut novel, Ten Thousand Saints. She then traveled the country after the book was published this summer, giving readings and signings as the novel earned glowing reviews, including one from The New York Times.
Henderson finally returned to Ithaca to give several local readings, and she’s scheduled to give another on campus in October. Thanks to her experiences as a first-time novelist, though, she returns to IC able to share more than just her newly-published words.
Faith in readers
“I’ve always tried to offer my students a realistic portrait of the literary world, letting them know that publication doesn’t come easily,” Henderson says. “But after going through the process of publishing a novel, I have a renewed faith in readers.”
Ten Thousand Saints explores the straight-edge movement of the mid-1980s. After his best friend overdoses in their small Vermont town, Jude Keffy-Horn moves to New York City to live with his drug-dealing father. There, Jude discovers the hardcore punk rock scene — and its associated straight-edge subculture. But the almost militant abstinence from drugs, sex, and meat provides its own form of addiction.
Henderson’s renewed faith in readers comes despite the small crowds that sometimes greeted her on her book tour.
“Other writers had warned me about small readings, but it was still humbling — and baffling — to try to reconcile the good press the book was getting nationally with the modest turn-out I was getting in bookstores,” she says. Still, she adds that it was immensely rewarding to meet or receive e-mails from the people who had enthusiastically read her book so recently after publication.
“I got to sign 200 copies in the basement of Harvard Book Store for their first edition club, so somebody must be reading it!” she says.
Henderson also notes a brightened view of the publication processes, observing that all the people involved — agents, editors, publicists, bookstore owners — are readers, too. That’s another new perspective she plans to impart to her students.
“At the same time, I’ll continue to encourage them to focus on their craft. In order to find an audience, good writing has to come first,” she says.
The book has garnered a lot of praise in the literary world, and the author has aggregated many of her reviews and interviews at the book’s website, www.tenthousandsaints.com.
“I’ve been incredibly lucky with reviews,” Henderson says. “There have been plenty of criticisms, but I’ve had the strange experience of agreeing with many of them — I struggled with writing this book, so I think some points are warranted.”
Her favorite, she says, was published in The New York Times. Reviewer Stacey D’Erasmo notes that Henderson “writes the hell out of every moment, every scene, every perspective, every fleeting impression, every impulse and desire and bit of emotional detritus.”
Henderson says she saw the reviewer’s major criticism — the novel’s intensity —as her greatest praise. “I tell my students that I’m the last person who will say, ‘You can’t do all of that in one story.’ So being criticized for being too ambitious is criticism I’ll take!” she says.
Reading at IC
Henderson will give a reading on October 5 at 7:30 p.m. in Clark Lounge. It is free and open to the public.