Meet a Deac – Maria Henson (’82)

As we continue our look at notable Wake Foresters, today we’ll introduce you to Maria Henson (’82), Associate Vice President and Editor-at-Large.  When your Wake Forest Magazine arrives at your house, or if you follow The Deacon Blog or the Wake Forest Magazine via social media like Twitter and Facebook, it’s Maria and her talented staff who bring that content to you.

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You are the Associate Vice President and Editor-at-Large here at Wake Forest.  What does that mean on a day-to-day basis?
I wear a number of hats.  I oversee the Wake Forest Magazine (both print and online), The Deacon Blog, and I also teach as a member of the Journalism faculty in the English department.  I also serve on various University committees.

You have only been back at Wake Forest since June of 2010.  What did you do prior to that?
I was a journalist at newspapers; my first full-time job was as a reporter.  I have been a general assignment reporter, a statehouse reporter, a political reporter, a Washington bureau chief, editorial writer, columnist, deputy editorial page editor, and assistant managing editor/enterprise, overseeing the Sunday paper and investigative projects.

Was this all in one place or did you move around a lot?
I have lived in Arkansas, Florida, Washington DC, North Carolina, Texas, and California.  I spent a year in Massachusetts as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, with twelve US journalists and twelve foreign journalists, which was an amazing experience.

In the interest of full disclosure to the Daily Deac readers, you and I are in a book club together and I have been to your house.  So you know I have seen your Pulitzer Prize and am obliged to ask you about it.
I won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for editorial writing.  In 2005, I was the editor of a series that won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing.  It’s a great honor to have been involved with both.

Why did you leave your journalism career?
I took a sabbatical for a year to live in Botswana.  I taught at the University of Botswana while I was there, worked in safari lodges, and lived in the bush.  I returned to Africa in mid-2009 to research a book.  Ultimately I did not write the book, but I loved living there.

What made you want to come back to Wake Forest?
I had always dreamed of coming back here because of a journalism professor, Bynum Shaw, who had inspired me so much.  I also had another formative figure in lecturer Wallace Carroll, who worked for The New York Times and the Winston-Salem Journal.  Because they inspired me and my career, I wanted to come back and do the same for today’s students.

Let’s talk about your time at Wake Forest.  What was your major, and what were some of your best memories?
I graduated in 1982 as an English major and art history minor; there was no journalism minor at the time.  As for favorite memories…I remember all of us who became friends as freshmen in 1978.  We lived in Bostwick 2A and called ourselves the “Bostwick Chicks 5656” (5656 was the hall phone number). I remember finding all these friends and having no idea at the time that we would be friends all of our lives.  Our RA later became a congresswoman, and to think she had to wrangle all of these imaginative, energetic girls on her hall way back when.

My girlfriends and I moved in packs (same as the freshmen girls do now).  We’d cruise the Quad to check our mailboxes and see which boys were sitting on the brick walls.  I have great memories of my SOPH sisters [SOPH was a local sorority that is now affiliated with Kappa Kappa Gamma], and working on the Old Gold & Black and Student Government.

What do you see in today’s students that is different from your own time on campus?
They are connected all the time via cell phone and texting.  They are connected by mobile phones to friends from home, to each other and to their parents. Actually the connection to parents is really different now.  Back in my day, you waited in line to use the hall phone on Sunday afternoon to make a collect call to your parents.  Since collect calls were more expensive, you made the call, your parents declined the charge, then called you right back on the hall phone to save money.  Also, today’s students put a lot more on themselves than we did – lots of pressure to succeed.

What advice would you give today’s students?
Having bucked my dad’s advice to become a business major, I know the value of following your passion.  I tell my students all the time, “follow your heart.”  College is a gift, and during this time you can learn about yourself, learn about how to live and work with other people with different perspectives, open yourself up to possibilities.  Don’t look at this as a vocational experience.  The education you will receive here will prepare you to do jobs that haven’t even been created yet.  This is your platform for not necessarily an immediate job, but for a meaningful life.

What is the best part about working at Wake Forest?
There’s not one thing! [laughs]  It’s working alongside people who really love this place and what it stands for in the world.  It’s walking across this gorgeous campus.  It’s getting to know a really diverse and talented group of students.  It’s constantly being proud of the achievements of people here in academia.  [leans in confidentially and whispers “It’s sports!“]

Another interesting thing for me is that some of my friends and classmates are now WF parents, so I now have a double connection to them. Through the magazine, I want to rekindle alumni ties to Wake Forest and remind them of their great love of this place.  And I want to tell the stories of what is going on here today with their children.  In the year I’ve been back, I’ve been able to renew my strong Wake Forest bonds in person.  It makes it feel as though I’d never left because the memories are so deep and so strong.

Now, the frivolous questions.

Book you’re reading now/book you last read:  I just finished The Paris Wife, and am currently reading The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.  I just ordered The Cat’s Table, which is a book by a favorite writer, Michael Ondaatje.

Music you’re listening to lately:  I stream in KGSR from Austin, where I used to live.  I like Texas roots and blues.

Favorite TV show:  Lately I have been in a British mood, so it’s “MI-5” (or “Spooks,” as it was known there), and “Downton Abbey.”

Website you frequent:  The New York Times

Guilty pleasure:  spa treatments

Favorite dining location on campus and what you eat there: I would never have said this in 1978 [laughs], but the Pit.  I love the scene and to be able to overhear conversations that students are having with each other.  I go to the salad bar, which also did not exist in 1978, when bacon cheeseburgers and Polar Bear ice cream were the go-to foods.

Preferred drink at Starbucks:  at 3 pm, a 1/2 caf, 1/2 decaf mix

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