In the Spotlight
Associate Professor, Eastern Kentucky University; Core Faculty, The Bluegrass Writers Studio
Richmond, Kentucky Member Since: 1999
About: Julie Hensley is a core faculty member of the Bluegrass Writers Studio, the low-residency MFA program at Eastern Kentucky University. Her poems and stories have appeared in dozens of journals, most recently The Journal, The Southern Review, New Madrid, Saranac Review, and Blackbird. She is the author of two poetry collections, The Language of Horses and Viable, and one book of fiction, Landfall: A Ring of Stories, winner of the 2015 Ohio State University Non/fiction Prize.
Photo Credit: John McQuiston
If you could require all of your students to read only one book, which would it be?
Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine.
When do you find time to write?
As a teacher and a mother, writing residencies have been very important to my work. During the academic year, I can really only revise. Sometimes I can work on very short pieces. Once I year, I try to hole up and dedicate several weeks to writing. Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts and Science in Rabun Gap, Georgia, has been a beautiful and nourishing place for me to write. I'm excited to be heading to Bloodroot Mountain in Tennessee this May.
What is the best writing advice that you dispense to your students?
Write what you want to read, and dwell in the work. Let the work sustain you until you find an audience.
What do your books look like once you’ve finished reading them?
I crack the spine as soon as I open a book, and I dog-ear pages. I tell myself, "Just this once, I'm going to read purely for pleasure without a pen," but I always end up writing notes in the margins and study questions on the back cover. My husband loves to hold up a book I've read and ask, "What have you done to this thing?"
What is your favorite thing to do when you should be writing, but just can’t find the motivation?
Exercise. I always put in some time at the YMCA first thing in the morning, and in the summer, when don't have to be on campus, when I should rush right home and start writing, I often think, "Well...I could stay for boot camp."
Where do you get your best reading recommendations?
I always make a point of reading the books that garner the big awards (the Pulitzer, the American Book Award, the PEN/Faulkner, etc.), and I will seek out the finalists, as well. But some of the best book suggestions come from my students.
What is the greatest compliment that you could ever receive about your writing?
That someone didn't want my book to end.
What is the best lesson that you have learned from a book?
Empathy, pure and simple. I think that's why I love the novel-in-stories form so much. Books like Alice McDermott's After This or Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin, in storying singular situations through different perspectives, demonstrate our common humanity in a direct way.
Would you like to share a project you are currently working on?
A novel in which several generations of one family descend on a lake house in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas in the wake of a granddaughter's disappearance. I'm braiding narratives from the 1940s, the 1970s, and the 1980s, and the historical research has provided me with a whole new way to procrastinate.
Who/what do you follow online?
Lee Martin is an incredibly generous and insightful blogger. I love the way his posts start with narrative, memories from his youth or little moments from his life with his wife, Cathy, and then bloom into rich writing lessons. I often share his ideas with my students.
What is your favorite line from a book?
"And it was the touch of the imperfect on the would-be perfect that gave the sweetness, because it was that which gave the humanity," from Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D’Urbervilles.
Why did you decide to join AWP?
Initially, I joined for the job list and the dossier service, but I've maintained my membership because of the support. I still eagerly await my Writer’s Chronicle!
What is your favorite AWP Conference memory?
I loved the lineup of readers and speakers at the Denver conference in 2010. It was amazing hearing Terry Tempest Williams. But there was something about trekking through all that snow in Boston in 2013—we were all red-cheeked in the lobby, stomping our feet and standing in puddling water.