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Joe Henry's writing life

July 10, 2011 | 11:33 am

This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

When Joe Henry was earning his MFA at the Iowa Writer’s Program, Kurt Vonnegut was one of his teachers and novelist John Irving was a classmate. Before going the MFA route, Henry had been a laborer, rancher and professional boxer. But his greater claim to fame is as a songwriter: His songs have been recorded by a who’s-who of popular singers including Frank Sinatra, John Denver, Trisha Yearwood, Garth Brooks, Emmylou Harris and Roberta Flack.

He began writing songs back in 1969 while living in New York City, working in construction and training as a professional boxer. Soon after, he began writing poetry about Colorado, Wyoming and Lime Creek, winning awards from the National Wildlife Federation and others for his conservation efforts in the West and for “the celebration of the natural world in his work.” The work was read and performed in various venues for years before Henry decided to collect the various scenes in a single volume.

Friends and reviewers have called his debut novel, “Lime Creek,” lyrical, and they aren’t kidding. The book is a series of pictures, of verses about a family living on a horse farm in rural Wyoming. Scenes from the book have been performed by Henry’s friend, actor Anthony Zerbe, in a stage performance titled: “A Lime Creek Christmas.” Hard work, beauty, raw cold, pure spirit — it’s a book-length song, an opera. Henry just needed more space. For our review of “Lime Creek,” check out this Sunday's Discoveries book column. And for more info on Henry, visit his website and listen to some of his music. 

For the record, 2:32 p.m. July 10: A previous version of this post mistakenly included a video clip of another singer named Joe Henry.

-- Susan Salter Reynolds