Acclaimed author Patti Callahan Henry to discuss “Once Upon a Wardrobe”
By Marianne Leek
Photos by Bud Johnson, Brian O'Shea
One of the first books to ignite my love of reading was “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” the first in the “Chronicles of Narnia” series by C.S. Lewis. When I was 10 years old, a family friend gave me a boxed set (which I treasured) of the entire series. I longed to be Lucy; I wanted to step through a wardrobe into the magical world of Narnia and have tea with Mr. Tumnus, who, like all of us, was at times misguided and flawed, but at his core, seemed to be good. And perhaps that’s the beautiful thing about books; at the very least, they can take us to magical places; at their best, books and literacy become a catalyst for transforming us for the better as human beings.
That very premise is at the heart of the mission of the Literacy & Learning Center in Highlands, NC. They recognize and are committed to connecting the people in their communities with literacy enrichment opportunities, educational tools and books. In addition to offering a wide range of programs such as after school enrichment, homework helpers and English as a second language courses, they also provide large print books to senior care facilities, extend individual tutoring to students and adults of any age, and have volunteers who work directly with Macon County child care and Macon County Schools to foster a love of learning among the youngest of readers. The Literacy & Learning Center also participates in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, an early intervention literacy program providing a free monthly book to children ages birth to 5. Dolly Parton once said, “The seeds of dreams are often found in books, and the seeds you help plant in your community can grow across the world,” and the Literacy & Learning Center has been busy planting seeds and cultivating a community garden of lifelong readers and learners.
On October 17, as part of a fundraiser, the Literacy & Learning Center will be hosting Patti Callahan Henry, a New York Times and USA Today best-selling author of 16 novels and podcast host. In fact, in just the past year, she published an audible short, a novella about Florence Nightingale, “Surviving Savannah,” a historical novel about a shipwreck that happened in 1838, and a short story collection, “Reunion Beach.” The recipient of numerous awards, including The Harper Lee Distinguished Writer of the Year for 2020, she will be kicking off her latest book tour by discussing and answering questions about her newest work of historical fiction, “Once Upon a Wardrobe,” which launches around the same time.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Henry about the inspiration for writing “Once Upon a Wardrobe,” which examines seven seminal events in C.S. Lewis’ life that “you can tell have soaked their way into Narnia.” Initially curious about the connection between Lewis’ own life and the characters and events that are part of Narnia, she is “really excited to have ‘Once Upon a Wardrobe’ in the world. It feels like a book that is a culmination of a lot of things in my life, from the love of Lewis to the love of storytelling to the curiosity about the origin of stories in our lives, especially the ones that really stick in our consciousness.”
However, this is not the first time Henry has examined the life of C.S. Lewis and those closest to him. Her critically acclaimed book “Becoming Mrs. Lewis” explored his relationship with Joy Davidman. She explained her choice to research and write about the wife of Lewis, “I have been a life-long reader of C.S. Lewis and I knew about his doomed love story. He fell in love later in life and he married; they were only married a little over three years before she died of cancer, and he knew she was dying when he married her. It’s just this heartbreaking love story, and yet I had never heard about it from her point of view, from her side of the story. So, my initial interest in her was ‘oh, I want to hear about her side of this love story,’ but as I started to learn about her and do my research and dig into her history, I discovered a fascinating woman who deeply influenced the last ten years of Lewis’ work.”
Patti Callahan Henry has devoted much of her life to telling stories - some fiction and some nonfiction - but all with the intention of helping the reader to look deeper at the world, themselves and others. “I feel like the story is the force behind how I spend my life. The days, the hours, the weeks, the months that add to the years and the decades that add to a life are, for me, motivated by the power of story. Whether it’s the story we tell ourselves about our life, or whether it’s the stories I write that hopefully other people will see themselves in or resonate with or at least enjoy, and I learn more from stories than I do from any lectures someone can give me. Stories enrich our lives and it’s how we communicate.”
Bonnie Potts, executive director of The Literacy & Learning Center, says, “We are so fortunate to be hosting Patti Callahan Henry at this year’s Celebration of Education. Patti’s lifelong dedication to literacy aligns perfectly with our mission and values at The Literacy & Learning Center. It will be a true honor to hear her speak to our community in October.” The Literacy & Learning Center holds its fundraising event, Celebration of Education, each year to support its free educational programs for people of all ages. This year, the celebration will be held at Wildcat Cliffs Country Club on October 17, 2021, from 5:30-9:00 p.m. Tickets are $150 each and are available online at www.maconncliteracy.org/events.
For more information about The Literacy & Learning Center’s Celebration of Education, programs, or for information about becoming a volunteer, please visit www.maconncliteracy.org, contact TL&LC at (828) 526 – 0863 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.