Frank X Walker is the current Kentucky Poet Laureate. He also happens to be a Danville native and a DHS grad (just like yours truly.) So some literary types in Danville have organized the first ever literary fest in Frank’s honor. Be sure to come to Danville and check it out. Here’s the schedule:
The Frank X Walker Literary Festival
Thursday, September 18, 2014
“Turn Me Loose…. The Unghosting of Medgar Evers” Convocation
I’ll be in beautiful downtown Stanford, Kentucky on Saturday, April 12, 2014 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. along with other Kentucky writers. Please join me! I’ll be reading my books to kids at 11:00 a.m. Here’s more info about the event!
It’s become a ritual to sign an “L” for the last night of the entire Playhouse season. Here I am in front of an audience of 500 (!!), introducing the final show, thanking our regular patrons, bidding adieu until next year….
Pioneer Playhouse was started by my dad in 1950, and my family has continued to run it since then. Hard to believe we’re 64 years old…. and still going, still talking about the future…future plays, future actors, future programs.
We do 5 plays a summer. One every two weeks. Plus a 3 day comedy show to end out the season. It’s a grueling schedule. Rehearsing one play during the day while performing another at night. Tearing down one set within a 36 hour period and putting up a completely new one.
About 15,000 people come through our doors over the summer. Many have been coming for years. We have patrons who first saw a play here 40 years ago. We have some who haven’t missed a show in 20 years.
The theatre was my dad’s dream. He wanted to be an actor, went to NYC, but had to return home to Kentucky, so he decided to bring “Broadway to the Bluegrass.” After he died, almost 10 years ago now, my mom and sister took up the reigns. Since I’d moved back to Kentucky to write, I’d help out when needed.
But when Holly died last year, I stepped in as Managing Director along with my brother Robby. Maybe we could’ve just let the dream die, but it seems impossible to even contemplate. So we work…we work really, really hard. We don’t just put on plays. We do an outreach program that teaches playwrighting to inmates at Northpoint prison here in Danville. We started a similar program to teach playwrighting to seniors this year. We were the force behind the hugely success first ever Danville Irish Festival, during which we mounted an original play set in Ireland, and organized Irish musicians, dancers, singers, and storytellers to come to Danville to give us a taste of Irish culture.
So much time! My husband jokes that I work over 100 hours a week in the summer! It’s certainly more than a “regular” job. It’s exhausting, overwhelming at times. But it’s also incredibly rewarding.
Night after night, I shake every hand that comes through the gates of the Playhouse. I give hugs to familiar patrons, just as Holly did. I ask them how they like the show after it’s over, and listen as they tell me “It’s the best we’ve seen yet!” Or sometimes they’re honest and say, “I liked the last one better.” But overall, they’re happy, happy to have escaped into another world for a couple of hours. And that makes me feel good, makes me feel it’s worth all the work that goes into keeping a 64 year old theatre alive.
“See you next year!” I call out to the crowd as they pass by, and for the last few nights there have been tears in my eyes. I’m running on fumes from the breakneck pace of the summer, am looking forward to staying home at night with my family, not having to deal with the million little things that pop up during the day. But when it comes down to it, I’m sad to say goodbye to everyone — actors and patrons alike — I’ve come to know all summer. This is the way my dad felt, I’m sure of it, and my sister too. It’s one of the reasons we Hensons can’t really ever think about saying “goodbye,” but always… “see you next year!”
My dad used to quote Shakespeare at the end of the season, as the actors drove away, waving good bye from their car windows. He’d say:
“Our revels now are ended,
These actors as I foretold you,
Were all spirits
And are melted
Into thin air, into thin air.”
In my book about a tween growing up at a theatre a lot like the Playhouse (Here’s How I See It/Here’s How It Is), I have Junebug, the main character quoting the words because her dad can’t just then. But it’s ritual for her, a tradition, and so it must be done. The show must go on.
In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I decided to take my kids to the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, KY. The Ali center is jewel of a structure outside; inside it is a beautiful and moving tribute to the boxer, the humanitarian, the man who has spent his life fighting racism in this country and around the world. Through the interactive exhibits my kids learned about what it means to stand up for your rights and put your convictions on the line. I felt like it was a fitting way to celebrate MLK Day, as well as the day the first African-American president of the US was sworn in for a second term. Above is a picture of my sons sporting their hats from the center with a couple of Ali’s trademark phrases on the front.
At the center, during a film giving the highlights of Ali’s life, the poem IF by Rudyard Kipling is often quoted. Here is part of it below:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master; If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim, If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same:. If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, And lose, and start again at your beginnings, And never breathe a word about your loss: If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew To serve your turn long after they are gone, And so hold on when there is nothing in you Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch, If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, If all men count with you, but none too much: If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run, Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
When you go to the center, or if you visit the website (alicenter.org), you’ll see a list of Ali’s core beliefs. Here they are:
Belief in oneself, one’s abilities, and one’s future.
A firm belief that gives one the courage to stand behind that belief, despite pressure to do otherwise.
The act of devoting all of one’s energy, effort, and abilities to a certain task.
To present voluntarily without expecting something in return.
Esteem for, or a sense of the worth or excellence of, oneself and others.
A sense of awe, reverence, and inner peace inspired by a connection to all of creation and/or that which is greater than oneself.
I’ve been unable to update this blog for months. Here’s why: my sister’s cancer came back with a vengeance. She was gone in a flash.
Holly was my only sister, my big sister. She was born in Danville, KY on July 19, 1960. She grew up on the stage at Pioneer Playhouse, the theatre our dad, Eben Henson, started in 1950. She was always involved in one way or another at the Playhouse — acting, directing, managing. She became artistic director when Dad passed 8 years ago.
Holly died where she lived — in her home not a stone’s throw from the Playhouse stage. She died on May 27, 2012, just as the Playhouse company was assembling — the new actors arriving for the 63rd season. After she was gone, the company meeting went on without her; auditions for the first show continued. Rehearsals began. That’s the way Holly wanted it. The show must always go on.
It’s been a hard few weeks without her. Robby and my mom, Charlotte, are the ones who run the Playhouse now. I pitch in where I can. The family has vowed to keep Kentucky’s oldest outdoor theatre alive another year in Holly’s memory, and then we’ll see what happens. It’s hard to imagine ever closing it though. The Playhouse has been a part of my family’s very fabric, our heart and soul.
Every night I stand to greet patrons arriving for the show (one of my duties), and I’m constantly told how much I look like Holly, how much her personal greeting meant to them, how much the Playhouse continues to mean to them, how much they miss Holly, but are glad to see us going on as a family. It’s heart-breaking and gratifying all at once. It makes me feel sad. But it also makes me feel like I’m part of something bigger than myself.
Holly felt the same way. A few years ago, she started an “Artistic Director Diaries” as part of a podcast the Playhouse was doing at the time. Holly’s diary entries aren’t long, some of them just talk about the mundane day to day running of the theatre. But one passage jumped out at me when I read through it after she died:
Is it worth it? To keep this place going, under immense stress and strain?
Last night a mosquito kept me awake….I thought about my mother, who is 79, playing guitar and singing every night for the supper guests, as she has done for over 50 years. I thought about all the changes she has seen. All the sets, all the actors, the loss of a husband — as she stands in the back, enjoying the sound of the dialogue and the audience laughing.
All summer my trailer has filled up with flowers and photos and press releases and memories. There have been five opening nights. I’ll never see these same people, gathered in the same place ever again.
I’m so busy, I seldom have time to think about Dad. Except in an odd pause or two, and the realization that he’s not here still has a tinge of surprise — like he’s just taking a nap and will be back shortly and take all my worries away. Like he’ll invite me to sit beside him, as we greet the audience together.
I still don’t know whose dream is more important — mine or my dad’s. I still don’t know why the “show must go on.” There are only 20 outdoor theatres left in the entire US. If one more closes, does it matter?
If I wanted, I could walk away from all of this…into my own story. But how lonely would my summers be, without laughter and tears. At least when I’m stepping into Dad’s shoes, I can see the path.
I guess it’s my turn now, Holly, to follow in your footsteps. And I’ll do my best. But already the summer — and the path — seem lonely without you here.
I’m heading up to Northern Kentucky University tomorrow to participate in their annual Bookfest on Friday, May 4. It’s a really incredible day long program in which about 500 middle grade students from around the state come to the NKU campus in Highland Heights to talk about books and reading.
Here is a link to NKU’s webpage about it, with a really terrific video showing highlights of years past:
I will be speaking at NKU’s Book Fest this year, talking to 5-8th graders about reading and writing. This annual event is on Friday, May 4th. Following that, I will be at my favorite bookstore signing books: the Blue Marble in Fort Thomas, Kentucky. Below is a clip from their newsletter about the event. Hope to see you there!
Spring tends to be a busy time as more people are out enjoying the beautiful weather, groups schedule more activities and schools are entering their final month of the academic year.
We’ve been keeping busy with author visits at the store and local schools, a literature conference and professional lecture, a reading celebration and ordering new books for the summer and fall seasons. It’s been great seeing familiar faces and meeting new people.
We hope you can join us for our author events over the next month. We’re honored to be hosting Will Hillenbrand,Heather Henson and Debbie Dadey in the next few weeks. Even if you’re not able to visit the store for an event, we’d be happy to have books signed and personalized for you. Autographed books make such wonderful gifts; we have two special sections of books signed by the authors and illustrators who have visited our store.
Currently, we’re showcasing our new poetry and baseball books and have special displays of books relating to theTitanic, Kentucky Derby and horses. We also have books that would make perfect gifts for moms, high school and college graduates and your favorite educators.
We’d love to see you and catch up if you can spare some time to swing by the store. We hope to see you soon!
Peter & Tina Moore, manager and owner
Chris, Nancy, Tish, Betsy, Dave, Marilyn & Tanya, staff
Kentucky author Heather Henson has graciously agreed to visit our store immediately after NKU’s BookFest event. BookFest is a celebration of reading and writing for Kentucky students in grades 5-8. She’ll be signing her picture books and novels including Dream of Night [Atheneum, $15.99 hc] and Here’s How I See It, Here’s How It Is [Atheneum, $16.99 hc & $6.99 pb]. Reading Dream of Night is especially fitting at this time of year as it presents the story of a former racehorse. Ms. Henson is also the author of the award-winning That Book Woman [Atheneum, $16.99 hc] which was illustrated by David Small.
I am thrilled to say that I went on a much needed solitary writer’s retreat a couple of weeks ago! A writing friend had recommended that I try the Sisters of Loretto Motherhouse in Nerinx, KY. I did some emailing, and found out that I could stay at the Cedars of Peace retreat there.
Here is my cabin from the back. It is called Joy.
The cabin had everything I needed: a kitchen, a bed, a desk, a window with a view of the woods. More than that, it offered complete quiet and solitude!
Here is my cabin from the front.
The cabin was perfect! The setting was perfect! I set up my desk…I sat and looked out the window…I wrote…I read….I walked in the woods…I wrote some more…I read some more. I hardly spoke to another soul, except for the two lovely ladies who run both Cedars of Peace and Knobs Haven at the Motherhouse. They just wanted to make sure I was settled in. And yes, I was very settled in. I hardly wanted to leave my little cabin.
Here’s the view from my desk…..
And here’s the kitchen….
Here are the stairs to the second floor….
And here is the peace labyrinth nearby…..
I spent four amazing days of total solitude and stillness. It was exactly what I needed to help me get back into the novel I have been struggling with. I had never been to the Loretto Motherhouse before, even though it is only an hour from my home. It has a fascinating history — was founded in the early 1800’s. There’s a quiet cemetery there dating back to the beginning. There are trails to walk and a sculpture studio with sculptures by one of the resident nuns. I can’t believe it was only an hour from my home, and yet it felt like I was in the middle of nowhere.
I can’t wait to return to the Cedars of Peace the next time I need a restful and inspiring break from the everyday.
It’s been a while since I blogged about poetry. But here I go again. Because I recently read that one of my favorite poets died.
Wislawa Szymborska was born in 1923 in Poland. She won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996. I remember reading the announcement in the New York Times back then. They wrote about her surprise at winning. Apparently, she was a very private, quiet poet. The newspaper printed several lines from her poems, a sample of her work.
Something about the poems grabbed me. I think because the language was so simple, so frank. And yet it had a lyrical quality, a spare beauty. The lines I read had wit about them as well, a subtle wit. A sly kind of wit. A bit of a nudge and a wink. It seemed to me the poet was speaking through the words, saying, “Don’t worry. I’m not taking this very seriously, and neither should you. It’s just a poem, after all. The world is so much more important than this.” And yet, the words demanded attention all the same. They took hold, they sprouted. Her voice got in my head.
I cut the sample poems out of the newspaper that day and put them on my bulletin board, where they stayed, curling a little, browning at the edges, for several years. I also went out back then to St. Mark’s Bookstore in the east village in NYC and bought her book of selected poems. I have it still. I’m looking at it now.
Here are the last few stanzas from her poem, “On Death, Without Exaggeration:”
Hearts beat inside eggs.
Babies’ skeletons grow.
Seeds, hard at work, sprout their first tiny pair of leaves
and sometimes even tall trees fall away.
Whoever claims that it’s omnipotent
is himself living proof
that it’s not.
There’s no life
that couldn’t be immortal
if only for a moment.
always arrives by that very moment too late.
In vain it tugs at the knob of the invisible door.
As a writer, I’m often asked to come to speak to schools or to groups of young people, and it’s always an honor, and often very inspiring for me. A couple of weeks ago I traveled to Lancaster, Kentucky and spoke to three different groups of young writers from several different counties:
The Fire Writers
The Clark Moores Middle School Pencil Breakers
Wow! What cool names. And what cool kids! They all sat and listened intensely as I read the first chapter of Dream of Night, and then they had some truly terrific questions ready for me. Obviously these three different groups were serious about books and reading and writing, and that’s something that’s just so awe-inspiring to see in this day and age when there are so many distractions.
Thanks to Beth Dotson Brown for inviting me to speak, and thanks to those awesome girls for being who they are. Keep reading, keep writing — and as I noted in your books — keep dreaming, because once upon a time I dreamed about being a writer, and I’m here to tell you that dreams really can come true!