Interview: Smith Henderson

The Brief


Smith Henderson is a fiction writer. His debut novel, Fourth of July Creek, was longlisted for the Folio Prize and the 2016 International DUBLIN Literary Award, and was named as one of the best books of 2014 by Entertainment Weekly and The Washington Post. His short-form fiction has been anthologised and published in American Short Fiction and Best American Short Stories. He received a Pushcart Prize for his story ‘Number Stations’. Henderson contributed to Wieden+Kennedy’s Emmy-nominated advertisement ‘Halftime in America’, and co-wrote the film Dance with the One, a finalist for the 2010 SXSW Narrative Prize. He is also a staff writer for the television series The Son, which aired on AMC in 2017. 

Which book would you recommend to our readers?
A High Wind in Jamaica
by Richard Hughes, in which a group of children are kidnapped by pirates. You soon pity the pirates. Chilling, hilarious, and indelible.

Which album would you recommend to our readers?
by the Melvins, recorded for Boner Records for just $600. Its sludge metal grind is the musical equivalent of a logging truck’s Jake brake.
Which television episode would you recommend to our readers?

Episode 6 of The Young Pope, directed by Paolo Sorrentino. The music video for Kendrick Lamar’s ‘HUMBLE.’ is good but it’s not, as many suggested, what The Young Pope ‘should have been’. TYP isn't boring – you are.

Which video game would you recommend to our readers?
The Civilization series, created by Sid Meier. Six iterations in, it’s still a blast. Vital, emotional preparation for the end of Pax Americana.


The following questions relate to our Perspectives column, in which two writers respond to an artwork that they are experiencing for the first time.

Are educational curricula a form of violence? 
The question comes from a crisis in education. Teachers doubt the nobility of the profession, students are in debt, and jobs are being automated away. There are no answers.

Does narrative film rely upon empathy?
It relies only on objective, obstacle and uncertainty. It is more interesting to watch someone try to cross a creek than save the world. Empathy is optional.

Is dreaming a form of creativity?
Dreams are narrative. You are always solving a problem or negotiating a conflict. Sometimes they are interesting; usually they are mundane.

Must an art form’s future be shaped by its past structures?
Really great art supersedes its antecedents and sometimes seems to have influenced the past, making the old derivative and cribbed.

States of the Arts

The following questions relate to our States of the Arts column, for which each article includes four artworks that share an association with a single nation or territory.

Which Jamaican artwork would you recommend to our readers?
A Brief History of Seven Killings
, a novel by Marlon James. So many voices and valences. There were times when I got lost, but I never felt abandoned.

Which Mexican artwork would you recommend to our readers?
Down the Rabbit Hole
, a novel by Juan Pablo Villalobos. Seventy pages of ruminations by a drug lord’s ten-year-old son. Circumscribed, perverse, touching.

The art of discovery

The following questions relate to Silent Frame’s aim to celebrate the art of discovery.

For you, is artistic discovery a private or shared experience?
Wholly private. I have my enthusiasms and sharing them is just an economic necessity, a way of continuing to make them.

What question would you like to ask other Silent Frame interviewees?
Which emotion gets you into the most trouble?

More to discover

Smith Henderson: You can visit Smith Henderson's website here, follow him on Twitter @smith_henderson, and read an excerpt from Fourth of July Creek here.

Marie-Helene Bertino has interviewed the author for One Story (including an excerpt of his short story, 'Number Stations'), as has Anne Caldwell for American Booksellers Association, Connie Ogle for the Miami Herald, and Michael Noll for Read to Write Stories.

Today's recommendations: A High Wind in Jamaica (excerpt), 'Boris' (the opening track from the Melvins' album Bullhead), The Young Pope (trailer), Civilization IV (gameplay), A Brief History of Seven Killings (excerpt), Down the Rabbit Hole (excerpt).

Also on Silent Frame