DeWitt Henry

Selected Works

COMING IN OCTOBER.....True wisdom and beauty, in a time when we dearly need both.—Eileen Pollack, author of THE BIBLE OF DIRTY JOKES......One could place this book, so different from its contemporaries, in the dive-in-get-wet tradition begun by Montaigne: choose a subject as your starting point and then follow where your musings take you. But I am reminded of another French thinker as well, the philosopher of the imagination Gaston Bachelard, who reminded us that "Words dream." In Sweet Marjoram, DeWitt Henry leans in close, divines those dreams, follows their lyrical and associative reasoning, and in his precise and luminous prose, maps our contemporary consciousness, noting our psychic landmarks, our moral architecture, the roads we take to the things that matter.—Richard Hoffman, author of HALF THE HOUSE and LOVE & FURY.
Short Fiction
These are stories with traction. Henry's writing immediately brought to mind the work of Richard Yates in terms of style, time periods, and deep characterization. And, like Yates, he takes no prisoners. --Susan Tepper, author of THE MERRILL DIARIES....... What a marvelous, fierce collection! --Margot Livesey, author of THE FLIGHT OF GEMMA HARDY....... Who’d have thought we could enjoy such engagement, even entertainment, in some of the worst nightmares of life as a man in America? In the good cop breaking bad, the solid breadwinner who begins to lose, and lose, or the middle-aged middling success who, with one step outside the norms, might break his neck? Dewitt Henry skillfully computes the angle of fall for all those. In one freaky, brainy outlier of a tale, he even details the long drop of the great King Kong. Yet in Kong's case as in the dirt-beneath-the-nails realism of the two novella-length closers — each the rise and fall of an entire Rust Belt cityscape — Falling proves most moving in its grasp of the essential tragedy: the perversion of the dream once pure. --John Domini, author of MOVIEOLA
21 brief sketches about growing up on the Philadelphia Main Line during the 1940s and 50s
Hidden River Press. 2011. 252 pages. This is a moving, sepia-toned, and powerful look at the bonds of a family, but it also tracks the development of a deeply gifted writer and his dedication to American letters. This resonant memoir is by turns poignant and harrowing, and with each new page, I felt the exhilarating rush of recognition. In writing about his family, DeWitt Henry ushers his readers to better understandings of their own histories. --Bret Anthony Johnston, author of CORPUS CHRISTI: STORIES
Red Hen Press, 2008. 190 pp."As with any flat-out wonderful book, a few words of praise cannot begin to do it justice. But here goes: SAFE SUICIDE is elegantly written, edgy, touching, inventive, surprising in its shifts of style and form, and completely spellbinding from start to finish. Partly memoir, partly a sequence of interlocked essays, this is a book that works its way under your skin and down into your vital organs. It is really, really good."--Tim O’Brien, author of THE THINGS THEY CARRIED.
Winner of the 2000 Peter Taylor Prize for the Novel
Essays that reflect the tenacity, the strength to go forward and to love. Beacon Press, 2001. 219 pp.
Co-edited with James Alan McPherson. Beacon Press, 1999. 252 pp.
A collection of first or very early fiction by now prominent authors as it appeared in the prizewinning journal Ploughshares over the past three decades.

My Works

Available October 15, 2018 from Plume Editions/MadHat Press

Sweet Marjoram: Notes and Essays
In this new collection of essays, Henry draws on his 40-year career as an award-winning novelist, memoirist, editor, and teacher, as well as on the works of classical and contemporary literature that have served him as “equipment for living.” He develops a lexicon of 22 abstract terms, including Weather, Time, Handshakes, Privilege, and Empathy. He sifts the layered meanings of each term through research, wit, personal stories, literary quotations, and free association. His inspirations are Stephen Dedalus’s stream of consciousness and Hamlet’s soliloquies, as both in turn are inspired by Montaigne’s essays. Some terms suggest collective wisdom. Some invoke discoveries. Some reveal outmoded agendas and biases, or promise new ones. The adventure is in how, rather than in what, to think; and Henry’s terms of choice are salient to our culture and times, where too often they serve to prevent rather than to challenge original thinking.

Falling: Six Stories
In contrasting styles and voices, Henry presents a mid-life rancher's protest against aging, a factory foreman's flight from grief, King Kong's seduction by Beauty, a writer's death-defying bungee jump, a police chief's humiliation, and a Philadelphia executive's breakdown during World War II. De Casibus is the lyrical motif.

Visions of a Wayne Childhood
Brief, ironic sketches that originally ran on Radnor Patch are collected into this illustrated chapbook. The topics, such as "Best Friend," "Odd," or "Fall Away Presbyterians," suggest a template for profiling any home town, but in Henry's case, Wayne, PA, was known for its "unabashed elitism and its segregation," according to commentator David Brooks. Most of Henry's sketches are excerpted from his earlier memoirs, but are woven together and arranged here into a unified effect. Henry writes: "Contrary to the saying that you can't go home again, at a lifetime's distance, I believe that you can and should, and perhaps must, in memory and imagination. More than an exercise in nostalgia, I believe this to be an affirmation of distance and growth."

Sweet Dreams: A Family History
A masterful memoir of a young boy's passage from childhood to adulthood in a family of privilege torn by dark secrets: alcoholism, mental illness, dysfunction. As a complicated coming of age story, Sweet Dreams charts the journey of DeWitt Henry, well-known author, editor, publisher and educator, in his earliest struggles to find and achieve his own creative destiny. It is what Richard Hoffman calls "...a remarkable feat of memory delivered in extraordinary prose."

Safe Suicide: Narratives, Essays, and Meditations
In a collage of elegant, linked essays DeWitt Henry captures the pulse of his American generation-- partly offering a portrait of the artist, partly a man's pilgrimage of learning, growth and discovery through decades of social and cultural change. The drama of SAFE SUICIDE is the writer's mid-life quest for psychological and spiritual truth. By turns lyrical, quirky, confessional, and experimental in form, Henry's essays build into an affirming and generous vision. While addiction, the uses of imagination, a passion for literature, and issues of heart and soul are key motifs, a bungee jump becomes Henry's central metaphor: isn't this life? isn't this art? We live and trust in our safe suicides.

The Marriage of Anna Maye Potts
It is the story of a working-class Philadelphia woman whose life is upset by the death of her father and her younger sister's takeover of the family home. The protagonist is forced out of the house and soon develops an unusual relationship—which becomes a marriage—with an older co-worker. She struggles to legitimize her place in her new husband's life and restore her own inner strength. "A powerful picture of an American family in a time of radical changes. Deeply compassionate, yet utterly unsentimental, the story is built around the joys and sorrows of ordinary people, people we can believe in and will remember, people whose lives and hopes matter. This novel introduces a gifted writer whose achievement is admirable."--George Garrett, author of The Succession.

Sorrow's Company: Writers on Loss and Grief
In this volume, DeWitt Henry has collected some of the finest contemporary writing about loss and the grieving process, essays that explore emotional trauma in finely crafted prose. Debra Spark recounts her sister's death and reflects on all of the ideas that have helped her come to terms with grief. William Gibson writes eloquently of his mother's passing with a new understanding of the cycles of life. Andre Dubus describes the terrible loss of mobility he suffered in a freak accident, and what his pain and disability taught him about the human will. Transported back to her native Antigua and to all the complexities of a difficult childhood, Jamaica Kincaid confronts her brother's ostracism and death from AIDS. All of the pieces reflect, in some aspect, the tenacity, the strength to go forward and to love, that has informed these life journeys andthe resolve that "what matters is not what becomes of us, but what we become." This collection offers a unique perspective on loss, a depth of insight and compassion that only such masterful writers could summon.

Fathering Daughters: Reflections by Men
Literally hundreds of books cast light on the mother-daughter bond, but the relationship between a girl and her other parent remains stubbornly hidden in shadow. The strikingly lucent essays in Fathering Daughters do their best to repair that imbalance. There's Rodger Kamentz, who prefers speaking English straight up rather than babbling baby talk at his infant Anya--"Why offer her ears a blurry target?"--and Rick Bass, who worries about tweaking his daughters' political consciousness too hard. You want your daughters to loathe injustice, he says, but do you want them to burn as erratically and out-of-control as you do--with that much bitterness? Psychiatrist Samuel Shem observes American gender differences with some alarm as his 3-year-old daughter anxiously considers what to wear before a play date where the boy will snub her attempts to connect. Darker tales surface from Gary Soto, drowning in depression, and William Petersen, on a vacation with a daughter dying of leukemia. A few essays are irritatingly narcissistic, but the best showcase some tremendous writers capturing murmurs that swell to a roar as they echo back from our own lives. - Francesca Coltrera

Breaking Into Print: Early Stories and Insights into Getting Published (A Ploughshares Anthology)
Features fiction by Tim O'Brien, Jayne Anne Phillips, Sue Miller, Carolyn Chute, Edward P. Jones, Janet Desaulniers, Mona Simpson, Howard Norman, Melanie Rae Thon, David Wong Louie, Susan Straight, Christopher Tilghman, David Gates, Carolyn Ferrell and Gina Berriault. The introduction describes the "discovery" process for new writers. Headnotes reveal how the authors launched their writing careers. "Shoptalk" excerpts from literary luminaries highlight aspects of craft. Also includes lists of books about careers in writing, lists of websites and links for new writers, lists of literary magazines and prize anthologies with advice on submissions.