The Story of My Book: L. I. Henley

Published periodically, “The Story of My Book” posts bring our collections to life through a series of five questions we ask all of our poets that highlight what makes every book unique and why Perugia is the right home for each of them (and may be for you and your book too).

L. I. Henley on Starshine Road (Perugia, 2017)

1. What was the genesis of your Perugia book?

A childhood and adolescence living rather reclusively in the Mojave Desert of California. Independence, solitude, fear. Earthquakes. Explosions on the neighboring Marine Base. Wind. Being an only child and spending time observing, listening. Not sleeping. Strange dreams when I did sleep. Lots and lots of junk (i.e. actual rusted things like old cans, railroad spikes, engine blocks). And later on, adult love. Illness. Poorness. Gratitude. Awe. All of these influences went into Starshine Road, which is the name of the dirt road in Landers where I spent half of my childhood.

“Junk” by L. I. Henley
“Study in Rust” by L. I. Henley

2. How did you find out about Perugia Press?

I think I found out about the press first by reading Beg No Pardon by Lynne Thompson when I interviewed her for the lit magazine I ran at the time. Then later I read Jennifer Sweeney’s How to Live on Bread and Music. I thought, wow—this press puts out amazing books!

L. I. Henley and Lynne Thompson

3.  Can you describe an experience that confirmed Perugia Press was a good fit for you?

Well, it started with the phone call from Rebecca. I actually have a photo my husband, Jonathan, took of me getting that call. I’d share it, but it’s embarrassing. My face is red and I’m crying while giving Jonathan a thumbs-up. I was happy to have won, yes, (and I’ll add for context that I’d sworn the previous year I wasn’t going to send the manuscript out again, tired of the rejections and the finalist positions), but when I heard the voice on the other end of the line, so warm and genuine and calm, I knew I had made a great choice. Publishing with Perugia still remains my best publishing decision.

4. How have you changed as a poet, writer, or creative person since your book came out?

Oh, let me count the ways! Well, for one thing, if someone had told me when I was working on Starshine Road that I would next write a desert-gothic-novella-in-verse with multiple speakers I would not have thought that possible. More so, I wouldn’t have ever guessed I’d be writing creative nonfiction and making visual art. And now, I have officially left the desert, so I will change in ways I don’t even understand yet. (Side note: before we left, we took a drive down Starshine Road and come to find out it’s not even a passable road anymore. The sign is there but the dirt path no longer connects to the thoroughfare.)

L. I. Henley’s novella-in-verse, Whole Night Through (What Books, 2019)
L. I. Henley’s Paper Dolls & Books doll for Jennifer K. Sweeney’s Foxlogic, Fireweed (Backwaters Prize/U. of Nebraska, 2020)

5. Other than poetry, what moves and motivates you?

Honesty, forgiveness, people having good faith conversations, making space for complexity of thought. Writers devoted to improving their craft. Writers devoted to the line, to the sentence. Animal rescues move me. The Ocean Cleanup Project moves me. My mother beginning to write about her life at age seventy both moves me and motivates me. My friends motivate me with their willingness, with their ability to keep picking up the pen.