By Laura Hayes
Writing can be a way to process grief for many. But for Scott Henderson, Ph.D., the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Education at Furman, it was a way to begin again.
Henderson began writing poems as a way to deal with the loss of his partner in 2010.
“The writing was helpful in terms of clarifying what happened and getting my life back in order,” Henderson explained.
However, after writing more than 40 poems, the therapeutic art form began to shift into a bigger project and more than just a way of getting through a difficult time.
“I got an editor, read 80-plus volumes of poetry and got a lot of advice from my colleagues who had published before,” Henderson said. “I also got to work making the original artwork that you see in the memoir.”
All of the work is culminated in “Gin and Gardenias,” an autobiographical-poetic memoir about growing up as a gay male in the American Southeast.
The memoir is divided into four sections that highlight milestones of Henderson’s life, including the challenges of discovering his identity as a teen and young adult, meeting and spending 24 years with his partner, grieving after his loss and moving forward from that grief. Henderson emphasized his intention to recognize through his poems that his experiences “were largely shared, mostly by other gay men.” Additionally, the memoir touches on many personal, social, political and spiritual messages that Henderson has experienced throughout his life.
“I enjoyed writing poems that made the personal more universal,” he explained. “I like the idea of helping a large audience understand my experience and that these experiences are shared by a larger community.”
While writing helps filter grief, it can also present difficulties in dealing with present and past emotions.
“Of course, the grief section was the most difficult one to write because it was written in real time as I was dealing with the loss,” Henderson said. “The poems in the last section, however, reflect the challenges of moving forward that I had not anticipated, and I enjoyed putting those challenges into words.”
In terms of takeaway messages, Henderson stated that he wanted to encourage his readers to think more about how sexual orientation makes you both different and the same as others.
“Love is love. Desire is desire. Grief is grief,” he said. “Certain emotions have the ability to transcend all human beings.”