After long journey, Duluth writer finds his niche as book publisherBruce Henricksen says he always wanted to pursue creative writing. He finally saw that dream come to fruition in recent years, although it was a long and unexpected journey that turned the college professor in New Orleans into a book publisher in Duluth.
By: Tom Olsen, Lake County News Chronicle
Bruce Henricksen says he always wanted to pursue creative writing. He finally saw that dream come to fruition in recent years, although it was a long and unexpected journey that turned the college professor in New Orleans into a book publisher in Duluth.
Henricksen, now 72, worked as a literary professor at Loyola University for 27 years. While writing was his passion, he often couldn’t find time for it.
“I taught a lot of fiction and poetry, but I didn’t have a lot of time to pursue my own writing,” he said. “I wanted to hold on to the job. I was doing all the academic stuff I was supposed to do to earn tenure.”
That changed when Henricksen was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1996. He required surgery and returned to teaching, but was having a difficult time communicating with students.
Newly remarried, Henricksen accepted a severance package from Loyola and moved to Duluth where his wife had a home. After several years of speech therapy, Henricksen has been able to improve his voice, although his speech is still slightly slurred.
With some time on his hands, Henricksen said he decided to take a shot at writing.
“I was sort of happy to be done with teaching at that point, but I wanted to stay active,” he said.
Henricksen, now an accomplished publisher, will be on hand at the Two Harbors Public Library next week to promote his newest release. The book signing begins at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 14.
Henricksen launched his writing career by putting together a collection of short stories under the title of “Ticket to a Lonely Town,” which was named runner-up for the Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction, a national competition, in 2005. The book was soon after picked up by a Detroit publisher.
In 2007, Henricksen started his own publishing firm, Lost Hills Books, in Duluth. He published his first book, “After the Floods,” the next year. The book begins in post-Katrina New Orleans, but is mostly set in the fictional town of Cold Beak, Minn.
“Sometimes the reader feels she has wandered into Garrison Keillor’s Minnesota, sometimes John Kennedy Toole’s New Orleans,” a New Orleans Times-Picayune review read. “It’s a short, thoroughly enjoyable flight of fancy, filled with sweet wisdom about the way we lean on — and crash into — one another.”
Enjoying the success of his first novel, Henricksen has gone on to publish numerous other collections and novels, both for himself and others.
One of his most personal collections, “From the Other World: Poems in Memory of James Wright,” was dedicated to Wright, who taught Henricksen at the University of Minnesota in the early 1960s. The collection includes poems by such noted 20th century poets including Robert Bly, Richard Hugo and C.K. Williams.
Other works include “South First and Lakefront,” a collection of poems about downtown Duluth by former Two Harbors resident Dennis Herschbach and “Tumbled Dry,” a poetry collection by Brainerd-area resident Charmaine Donovan that went on to win the Northeastern Minnesota Book Award for 2012.
Herschbach has since moved to Sartell, Minn., and is now working with a larger publisher, North Star Press of St. Cloud, but he said he was able to use Lost Hills Books as a springboard for his writing career.
Herschbach’s newest novel, “Convergence at Two Harbors,” an espionage tale set in the Lake County community involves a terrorist attempt to upset Great Lakes shipping by blowing up the ore docks, was published last June, and a second book in the series is slated for this summer.
“He’s given a lot of us an opportunity to really get out there,” Herschbach said. “He’s really an inspiration to all of us. He’s been through a lot, but to come out with such marvelous work, we can all learn from him.”
Herschbach was also appreciative of Henricksen’s local approach to publishing.
“Bruce is very supportive of local writers, and we all appreciate that,” he said.
Henricksen is currently promoting his newest book “Crooked Miles, Woven World,” a novella and short story collection that was released early this year. The book’s tales include references to some of the biggest news stories in Duluth over the past year, including the June flood, the controversial Un-Fair Campaign and the legal battles involving the Last Place on Earth.
Many of Henricksen’s works are set in the Twin Ports region, featuring typical sites like Lake Superior, Canal Park and the salties and lakers that come through the canal.
As suggested by the name of his most recent book, Henricksen said he weaves many of his stories and books together. A major character in one story might play a minor role in another, or a minor plot event in one tale might be the focus of another.
“We all walk our crooked miles but are also woven into the fabric of the community,” his writer’s statement explains.
The most rewarding part of publishing, Henricksen said, has been to help other local writers get published for the first time.
“I’m not a big publisher with big budget and the hardest part is getting word out,” he said. “It has not been profitable, but it’s been very rewarding in other ways.”