Kim Henderson, Creative Writing Chair

“I might be willing to try play-writing at some point, or a young-adult novel. I want to try new things, like my students do!”

Being as good as Kim Henderson is at doing familiar things entitles you to confidence in your ability to accomplish new things. Some recent evidence of what has become Kim’s familiar success in producing literary fiction was the appearance of her short story, “Night Window,” in The Kenyon Review (

Kim is Chair of Idyllwild Arts Academy’s Creative Writing Department. Her prize-winning collection of very short stories, The Kind of Girl, appeared in 2013, and her next major publication may be a novella about an El Paso family. Raised in New Mexico, she knows the Southwest intimately.

How can her students develop comparable skills?

“For one thing, I tell them over and over to include a lot of sensory details so that readers can see the universal in the particular.”

She pauses to smile. She does this frequently, yet each smile comes as a surprise because she so often looks absorbed by serious thought, as she had a moment before. Those frequent, surprising smiles are reminders of how much she loves working with the Academy’s aspiring teenage writers in the school’s smallest arts department, with twelve majors this past year.

“You have the students for a number of years and really get to know them. It’s like a family. Our students are pretty dedicated, and in a small department, peer pressure to create good work is strong. I rarely feel like I’m coming to work. I’m coming to be with people who like writing and reading. In many ways, these students are like grad students except they’re much more open and willing to try things.”

Preparing for her May 8 appearance in the Spotlight on Leadership series sponsored by the Associates of Idyllwild Arts Foundation, in Nelson Dining Hall’s Fireside Room, Kim reflected on her ten years at the Academy. Course offerings have expanded broadly during that time so that students would have more specific writing alternatives.

“”We try to expose the students to everything they will encounter as writers,” she said. “We teach poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, memoir, and dramatic writing, which includes playwriting and a new offering, writing for television.”

Kim’s department also gives students the chance to collaborate in publishing Parallax (, editing sections of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. In addition, students publish a literary newsletter.

Many of her students can’t imagine their lives without writing, and Kim knows that writing can be a calling as much as a career.

“I think of something the poet Richard Hugo said: ‘A creative-writing class may be one of the last places you can go where your life still matters.’”

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