In the summer of 2011, Kim Henderson, 32, was attending a writers conference at Reed College in Portland, Ore., when she decided to slip away for an afternoon and lose herself in the shelves at the Powell's Bookstore. In the shop's staff picks' section, she found "They Could No Longer Contain Themselves," a collection of five short chapbooks. The publisher was Rose Metal Press, a small nonprofit press run partially out of Chicago that puts out three books a year.
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"I got that book and read it and loved it," Henderson said, speaking by phone from her home in Idyllwild, Calif. "I just thought it was awesome that there was a place that published short, short chapbooks. I didn't even know that was an option for me."
Henderson's impulse purchase led her to submit a compilation of short, short fiction stories about girl- and womanhood to the seventh annual Rose Metal Press Short Short Chapbook Contest. She won, and her book, "The Kind of Girl," was released in a limited, hand-letterpressed run this summer.
As the stories in "The Kind of Girl" unfold, the narrators, all girls and women, get older, but they continually confront similar feelings of loneliness, loss and isolation. In one story, a woman questions her choice of husband while longing for a father she pushed away long ago; in another, a girl searches for her missing brother while trying to find a way out of poverty. The 13 stories in "The Kind of Girl" are quick reads at less than 1,000 words each.
Of the 113 submissions to Rose Metal Press' contest this year, six made their way to final judge and author Deb Olin Unferth, who said Henderson's book stood out because her distinct stories created a complete whole.
"It was lyrical, and the language was really interesting, and the voice was sad and full of longing," Unferth said. "Even though the first piece is written from the point of view of a 13-year-old, it had a world-weary tone to it but yet was also sort of funny. It had a level of irony, but it wasn't the kind of irony that had resigned itself. It was an irony that had all this hope underneath it."
Henderson, chair of the creative writing department at Idyllwild Arts Academy, an arts-focused boarding high school in California, has wanted to be a writer for as long as she knew there were stories. She studied the craft at the University of New Mexico and in graduate school at the University of Montana.
Daniel Mueller, the director of creative writing at University of New Mexico and Henderson's former professor, remembers Henderson as a quiet girl with a talent that couldn't be silenced.
"I'm guessing she struck most people as painfully shy," Mueller wrote in an email, "and yet the voice of her stories was so self-possessed, articulate, nuanced, and wise, the gift so pronounced, that one felt in the presence of a living breath contradiction. ... What I love most about Kim's stories, then and now, are how deeply felt they are, and how honest."
Henderson said candor was her main objective as she wrote, adding that she hoped to honestly convey the difficulties of creating your own identity.
While each story centers on a female, publisher Kathleen Rooney hopes people feel a connection with the universal struggle of trying to become an adult that she believes is at the heart of Henderson's book.
"It is not just about womanhood, but is about having a family or having a relationship with your parents or struggling with your siblings," she said. "The final story shows in a beautiful way that falsehood that one day, boom, you're going to be an adult and you are going to have everything figured out. This book says no, you just have to keep doing the best you can."
Courtney Crowder covers the Chicago literary scene for Printers Row Journal.
"The Kind of Girl"
By Kim Henderson, Rose Metal, 56 pages, $12Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun