Eleanor Henderson is an assistant professor at Ithaca College and holds an MFA from the University of Virginia. Her short story “The Farms” was selected for inclusion in Best American Short Stories 2009 and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Henderson’s fiction and nonfiction has appeared in journals including Ninth Letter, Salon, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Her debut novel Ten Thousand Saints, which revolves around a teen’s conversion to a straight-edge lifestyle following the drug-related death of a friend, was published to wide acclaim in 2011. The book was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times’ 2011 Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction and made the longlist for the 2013 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Ten Thousand Saints was also named a New York Times Notable Book of 2011; reviewed on the cover of the New York Times Book Review; and included on lists such as Amazon’s Top 10 Debut Fiction Titles of 2011, the New York Times’ Top 10 Books of 2011, and the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Top 100 Books of 2011. Henderson previously served as a contributing editor to the magazine Poets & Writers and chair of the fiction board for The Virginia Quarterly Review.
Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask you to describe Ten Thousands Saints, how do you answer?
This is exactly how it feels to describe one’s novel! I tend to say it’s about a sixteen-year-old boy coming of age in the straight edge scene in New York City in 1988.
Points is a blog primarily for drug and alcohol historians. What do you think this audience would find most interesting about Ten Thousand Saints?
The straight edge scene. One of the main reasons I wanted to write about straight edge is because I’d never encountered it in fiction before. It’s such a fascinating subculture—this group of young people who are eschewing drugs and alcohol and yet embracing a punk ethos. It’s Just Say No with an edge. Many of my main characters, who are teenagers, go even further and give up sex and meat, too. In many ways it’s a rebellion against traditional forms of rebellion.