The Ugly Cry

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The Ugly Cry

, The
Thurber Prize

“If you fight that motherf**ker and you don’t win, you’re going to come home and fight me.” Not the advice you’d normally expect from your grandmother—but Danielle Henderson would be the first to tell you her childhood was anything but conventional.

Abandoned at ten years old by a mother who chose her drug-addicted, abusive boyfriend, Danielle was raised by grandparents who thought their child-rearing days had ended in the 1960s. She grew up Black, weird, and overwhelmingly uncool in a mostly white neighborhood in upstate New York, which created its own identity crises. Under the eye-rolling, foul-mouthed, loving tutelage of her uncompromising grandmother—and the horror movies she obsessively watched—Danielle grew into a tall, awkward, Sassy-loving teenager who wore black eyeliner as lipstick and was struggling with the aftermath of her mother’s choices. But she also learned that she had the strength and smarts to save herself, her grandmother gifting her a faith in her own capabilities that the world would not have most Black girls possess.

With humor, wit, and deep insight, Danielle shares how she grew up and grew wise—and the lessons she’s carried from those days to these. In the process, she upends our conventional understanding of family and redefines its boundaries to include the millions of people who share her story.

About the author

Danielle Henderson is a TV writer (Maniac, Divorce, Dare Me, and more), retired freelance writer, and a former editor for Rookie.  A book based on her popular website, Feminist Ryan Gosling, was released by Running Press in August 2012; you can still buy it, and you probably should. Her memoir, The Ugly Cry, was published by Viking in June 2021.

Danielle grew up in Warwick, New York, a town ensconced in beautiful fall foliage, rolling farms, festivals dedicated to fruit–and mild class warfare and explicit racism that was never openly discussed or acknowledged. She was absolutely shaped by these factors, as well her blessedly close proximity to Manhattan, the city where she came of age. Instead of doing drugs or drinking, Danielle taught herself how to read a bus schedule and skipped many days of school in an effort to mitigate her desire to live in a more temperate place with the reality that she would be stuck in Warwick for quite some time. As a result, she has sat through more live tapings of The Late Show with Conan O'Brien than any earth science or chemistry class, a retrospectively wise choice.

In the past 20 years she has parked her full, wild life in Alaska, California, New York City, Boston, England, Rhode Island, and Seattle. She once drove from New York to Alaska by herself, and has survived a bear chase, four Alaskan winters, junior high school, working in a convent, Aquanet hairspray, acid wash jeans, and the entirety of the Mets' 1987 season. Elle parle un peu de français, but mostly ordering food and the type of colloquial cursing you would use on the Metro, like hoping your dick falls off or a vulture eats your eyes.

She is very tall and often forgets that she has freckles; strangers take every opportunity to remind her of both.

Danielle believes in the motivating power of jerks, and updates her list of enemies annually on New Year's Day. She limits it to five people, and you are probably not on it.

Her hair looks like that on purpose.

Danielle likes to make things with her bare hands.

She talked to her friend Julie Klausner about all of this on an episode of How Was Your Week?

Danielle went back to college in 2008 after a 12-year, uh, let's call it a hiatus, and graduated summa cum laude in 2011, earning degrees in both English Literature and Women's Studies; in 2013, she earned her Master's degree in Gender Studies. She dropped out of her Ph.D. program after one semester, no longer able to withstand constantly being asked to use the word axiological, which, despite having a dictionary definition, doesn't actually mean anything. She likes to watch old episodes of Doctor Who when she is on deadline, one of her tattoos is based on the movie Rocky, and she will never stop using the Oxford comma.

Danielle is 45 years old and lives in upstate New York.

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