Debut Author Snapshot: Artis Henderson

Posted by Goodreads on January 6, 2014
After an unexpected courtship and less than a year of marriage, aspiring writer Artis Henderson lost her soldier husband in an Apache helicopter crash in Iraq in 2006. Her journey of recovery, a story of grief and anger, is told in the heart-rending but ultimately hopeful memoir, Unremarried Widow. Henderson begins with a classic girl-meets-boy story: She falls in love with Miles, the conservative Texan who steals her feminist heart, and then describes her uncertain assimilation to life as an Army wife. After her husband's death, she finds a sudden kinship with her mother, who had also been widowed young in a similarly startling way.

Henderson returned to school and graduated from Columbia University's School of Journalism. Now a journalist and essayist living in New York City, the writer shares some personal snapshots of life before and after her great loss.

Miles Henderson in the cockpit of an Apache helicopter, 2006.
Goodreads: You describe yourself in the book as someone who always wanted to write. Did you expect your first major output to be a memoir?

Artis Henderson: Not in the least! My first love was fiction, and when I imagined my life as a writer, I assumed I would write novels. Then I went to journalism school, where the idea for this book began. Even then I didn't envision it as a memoir. I thought the book would be a collection of stories about other war widows. I taped hours of interviews and wrote several chapters, but the parts where I told my own story were more vivid and rich. It's enormously difficult to capture all the emotional nuances and sensory details of someone else's narrative, and I realized that if I was going to tell the story of being an Iraq war widow with all the painful depths it requires, then I was going to have to write about my own experience.

Miles and Artis Henderson on the day Miles deployed to Iraq, 2006.
GR: The loss of a spouse is always a catastrophic event. What particular challenges do widowed military spouses face that civilians may not?

AH: There's an unexpectedness to a combat death and also a brutality. Many military widows and widowers are not allowed to look on the body after it has come home. That means no final good-bye, no chance to hold a hand or kiss a cheek. The soldier often deployed months before, so the death has an unreal quality. It's easy to imagine they simply disappeared.

GR: Since your father died in a plane crash when you were five years old, part of the book focuses on the parallels between your mother's life and your own. Do you believe that any part of life is fated?

Artis Henderson in Dakar, Senegal, where she studied on a Rotary Scholarship and reported for the AP, 2010.
AH: This is something I go back and forth on all the time. I think in many ways we create our own fate. We take steps, unconscious or not, that lead to a point that feels predestined. But it's hard to ignore the sense of humor—or maybe a better term is sense of irony—that seems to govern life. At the grief group I attended after Miles died, there was a woman who had lost her second husband to a brain tumor. What was incredible but true was that her first husband also died of a brain tumor. She would sit in that circle and shake her head and laugh while she cried. What else could she do?

GR: Although it centers on grief, much of your storytelling is truly a love story. Was writing the book cathartic for you, and what emotions do you hope to convey to the reader?

AH: While I was writing the book people would say to me, "This must really be helping you," and I would look at them with these wild eyes and think, "Are you kidding? It's killing me." During the two years I spent writing, I dredged up a lot of painful emotions. I revisited the hardest moments of Miles's death again and again. I lost weight, I couldn't sleep. But when it was all done, when the book was finally out of my hands and on the road to publication, I realized something amazing: The heaviness of my grief had lifted somewhere along the way. I was able to say Miles's name without my voice cracking. I could remember, and talk about, the good times without being overwhelmed by the memory of his death. I hope readers experience that range of emotions. Not just the horribleness of the crash and the wretched year that followed, but the beauty of the time I spent with Miles and how that still gives me hope.

Comments Showing 1-5 of 5 (5 new)

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message 1: by Anna (last edited Jan 07, 2014 04:48PM) (new)

Anna I am now reading this book and it really is a great book to read. It is a love story as stated above. I too am going thru the first year of losing a loved one and I was hoping this book would help me. i am still reading it but I am enjoying it so far . A good read for anyone. I hope to post another comment when I am finished with the book

message 2: by Iraj (new)

Iraj tankuo

message 3: by Pratap (new)

Pratap Nair writing the book in itself has truly had a cathartic effect on the author. guess this will help all facing the situation the author has been through. maybe one simply has to cherish only the good moments to get over all the negatives.

message 4: by Iraj (new)

Iraj سلام خسته نباشید

message 5: by Shubhodeep (new)

Shubhodeep Chatterjee I am yet to read this book. But I sincerely hope to read it asap. My own father served in Army for 28 years. Now he is a retired man. To see him go for combat operations, or just for TD, the fear of loosing him always mounted on our family. Many a days we won't get news of him, lest seeing him only. I am lucky to have him home in peace rather in pieces, still, the the grief of loosing anyone, in the battlefield, is much more than an average death. And I totally agree with the author that, sometimes it feels like they have simply disappeared with no news altogether for days. Looking forward to read this book.

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