New Assistant English Professor Shares About Grief at Visiting Writers’ Series

Destiney Dingess, Student Reporter

The reading of poems about dealing with and getting through grief began the A.E. Stringer Visiting Writers’ Series last night, Sept. 29, as an award-winning poet and new assistant professor of English read her stories about losing her mother to colon cancer. 

“I had so many books that I turned to when I didn’t have words for that experience,” Dr. Sarah Henning said, “and so, for me, grappling not just with what comes after that, but also the moments of intense joy that can come after that—moments of intense excitement or intense sadness.” 

Such reflections led Henning to her newest book, “Terra Incognita,” a lyrical grief memoir written after her mother’s passing which she read from for the event. According to Henning, she hoped the book would help readers who are struggling with grief. 

“What does that look like when you no longer have what you considered that center in your life?” Henning said. “And so, for me, I think this book is a beacon of healing and finding joy as much as it is a grief memoir.” 

Grief can look different for everyone. Henning said that for her, grief looked like normalcy. She said she wore it well on the outside.She could go file a death certificate, go to a lawyer and liquidate savings and pay her bills, but she was completely numb on the inside.  

When that numbness wore off, she didn’t know how to feel about something that devastating, she said.  

“So, for me I always turned to words to teach me about how to deal with grief and that’s why I started reading all these memoirs,” Henning said. “I knew that I wanted to, in my genre, contribute to that set of words that may save people.”  

Henning wants to use “Terra Incognita” to teach people that it’s okay to tell their truth and to be powerful in their vulnerability, she said.  

“I have a hard story, but instead of being ashamed of it, I’m going to tell it because telling your story can help somebody else,” Henning said.  

The A.E Stringer Visiting Writers’ Series at Marshall University is a program that connects authors like Henning, their readers and students through different genres of books.  

The series invites a handful of writers to read on campus every year according to Dr. Rachael Peckham, professor of English and coordinator of the Stringer Visiting Writers Series.  

Some of the writers are local and some are visiting to connect with students and local readers. 

Every year, the series starts off the event with the Writers’ Harvest which always benefits the food bank, Peckham said.  

According to her, the visiting writers’ series tries to strike a good balance between the genres taught at Marshall, which primarily include fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction. 

Peckham went on to say the series wants to start branching out in different kinds of genres, such as fantasy or graphic novels. They want to include more authors that don’t fit into one genre, but are doing exciting work that students would enjoy. 

The next A. E. Stringer Visiting Writers Series event will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 12, at 7:30 p.m. in Smith Hall room 154. It will feature poet Isabel Duarte-Gray alongside fiction and nonfiction writer Karen Salyer Mcelmurray. 

For more information on the A.E. Stringer Visiting Writers’ Series and dates for more readings go to A.E. Stringer Visiting Writers Series – (