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90-year-old Big Hurricane Church member promotes 9th bookcomment (0)

October 20, 2011

By Sammie Jo Barstow

Many people dream about writing a book. Then time passes and they decide it’s too late.

Aileen Kilgore Henderson isn’t one of those people. Her first book was published when she was 74.

So did she ever think it was too late to fulfill her dream? “No, it never occurred to me,” said Henderson, a member of Big Hurricane Baptist Church, Brookwood.

After she and husband Art, a National Park Service naturalist, retired in 1988, they returned to Brookwood, where they built a country home on family property. It was finally time to realize her dream of becoming a writer.

She wrote five short stories, which she submitted to children’s magazines, but none was accepted for publication. “I couldn’t see anything wrong with them, but I began to see how they all could be woven together into a novel,” Henderson said.

She spent three years writing “The Summer of the Bonepile Monster,” a young adult novel, on an old manual typewriter. After winning a cash award when the book won the Milkweed Prize for Children’s Literature in 1995, she bought her first computer.

Since then, Henderson has written three other young adult novels and several nonfiction books, including “Stateside Soldier,” a memoir of her service with the Women’s Army Corps from 1944 to 1945.

Now 90, Henderson is busy with book signings and presentations promoting her ninth book, “Eugene Allen Smith’s Alabama: How a Geologist Shaped a State.”

She actually sees many benefits to beginning her writing career later in life. “It revitalizes one to meet editors, go to writing conferences and to help inspire other writers at workshops and signings. It brings people into your realm of friendship that never would have been there otherwise. It’s all a great joy,” Henderson said.

Encouraging struggling writers is a special privilege for her. “Young people with families and jobs have a difficult time finding time to write and contact editors. But I can be the inspiration for them,” she said. “I always tell them, ‘It’s OK if you can’t write as much as you want to now. You’re storing up memories and information and writing material.’ I tell them their time will come.”

Henderson also enjoys her frequent opportunities to talk with school groups about writing. She urges them to start keeping a journal. “No matter what age, I think it’s important to write down all your experiences and thoughts because, with time, you’ll forget,” she said.

As a lifelong journalist, Henderson has been able to pull stories and memories from her journals for many of her books, especially “Stateside Soldier.”

Returning home to Brookwood and Big Hurricane Baptist brought faith experiences full circle for Henderson. In the early 1930s, she and her sister were baptized together in Big Hurricane Creek. She remembers wearing a robe her mother made from the most inexpensive fabric, called “unbleached domestic,” and being told that snakes didn’t bite under water.

Henderson’s father served as a deacon and church treasurer, and her mother taught Sunday School. She started Girls in Action at the Pleasant Grove Baptist Association church in the early 1950s and worked in Vacation Bible School every summer.

Now Henderson is a member of the senior women’s Sunday School class taught by Ruby Morrison. “We all love being together and sharing our lives,” Henderson said.  

According to Larry Holloway, chairman of the deacons at Big Hurricane Baptist, “Mrs. Henderson is a jewel, and we are very fortunate to have her as a member of our church family. Her roots run deep in Big Hurricane Baptist Church. Alabama has Harper Lee and Brookwood, Ala., has Aileen Henderson!”

Although Henderson’s books are published by secular publishers, her faith is at the center of every writing project.

“I pray about all my writing. I want my writing to instruct and inspire and to lead the reader to hope,” she said.

Most of Henderson’s books are available on Amazon.com. For more information on scheduling book signings or presentations, email her at aileenkhenderson@aol.com.

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