Day 16: Leah Henderson

Leah Henderson Author Photo
Leah Henderson is a writer, mentor, and teacher. Her critically acclaimed books for young readers include Your Voice, Your Vote, The Courage of the Little Hummingbird, The Magic in Changing Your Stars, A Day for Rememberin’, and Together We March. She has written for the New York Times Book Review and as a contributing author for the Insights column in the NCTE journal Voices From the Middle. Leah holds an MFA in Writing and is on faculty in Spalding University’s graduate writing program and is visiting faculty at Hollins University MFA program. Because she has serious wanderlust, when she isn’t creating stories, she’s off someplace in the world getting lost then found, discovering new ones. The Brown Bookshelf is thrilled that she has found her way into our family. On Day 16, we welcome Leah Henderson, and invite you to get to know a bit of her rich story.

Like so many journeys, mine included more than just a winding road and a change in direction. It included a music speaker in an Italian nightclub. The first novel I ever finished pretty much got written sitting cross-legged on that speaker, next to that speaker, or at a high-top bar table at the side of a dance floor in an Italian nightclub. But while that novel will probably never see the light of day, it made me realize how much I wanted to see the characters in my head come to life in some real way. While friends, family and club-goers were supportive of my bizarre behavior at two in the morning, I decided to seek out another type of support—a community of writers that understood my need to get my stories on the page. And as someone who is always trying to learn and understand something new, I decided to go back to school and get an MFA in Writing. While in graduate school, a professor encouraged me to take her workshop in Writing for Children and Young Adults. There, I fell in love with the world of children’s books and the supportive people I met within it. My debut middle grade novel One Shadow on the Wall (Atheneum/Simon & Schuster 2017) came out of my time in that program when that same professor encouraged me to turn a short story about a little boy I met sitting on a beach wall in Saint Louis, Senegal in West Africa into a longer work. And since those early days, I have continued to search out and tell stories inspired by my curiosities, all I see and feel.

Authors write books for so many reasons. We have a story inside us demanding to be told. We are curious about a question we think a story could help answer. We want to let someone know they are seen. We want to spend a little more time in an interesting world or with interesting characters. Or perhaps, we write a story because we need to be reminded of something ourselves. We need to hear the words the story wants to say. For me, The Courage of the Little Hummingbird is that book. It is about a little hummingbird that tries to extinguish a raging forest fire with one drop of water at a time, despite the grumblings of larger, stronger animals that stand by and watch. When questioned about what she is doing, the little hummingbird simply says, “I’m doing all I can.”

In writing that story, I was reminded that despite the path forward, hurdles or roadblocks that I need to always try and do all I can even if it only makes the tiniest of ripples.

The Amplify Cohort was a supportive and welcoming community of other Black creatives at similar stages in our journeys. It gave us a safe space to ask questions, share ideas and listen to the concerns facing other Black storytellers with hopes of equipping us for a myriad of realities we might each face in this business. I truly appreciate of the Brown Bookshelf and the Highlights Foundation for the thought and care that went into creating such a space where we were able to connect with industry professionals and each other. By the end of it all, I had a notebook full of thoughts, suggestions, and action items that I wanted to implement and explore. Hearing from the other storytellers also gave me an immense sense of pride at the work being done and the efforts being made from each of us and others to uplift and amplify other Black voices. Connections, friendships and collaborative opportunities came out of that time as well.
I am forever grateful for moments where I can learn from so many amazing storytellers, whose work has so much to say.

    Connect with Leah online:

At her website
On X (Formerly Twitter)
On Instagram

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