Jennie Miller Helderman was born into a story-telling family in North Alabama too long ago.
“In my family you had to do one of two things,” Jennie says, “either thread a red worm onto a bream hook or tell stories. I did both.”
Until a few years ago, she did both.
She tells her stories, like when her cousin died and his wife had the burial policy but the one-legged woman had the body. Or about driving her mother and a coconut cake to the family reunion in a cow pasture in South Alabama.
And stories of other people in four nonfiction books, numerous magazine profiles and features, and a 600-word short story that earned her a Pushcart Prize nomination for Fiction in 2007.
In 2012, Sandy Hook teacher Kaitlin Roig saved her first-graders by hiding them in the bathroom. Jennie’s exclusive story, “The Face of Courage,” appeared in The Key, the 150,000 circulation magazine of Kappa Kappa Gamma Fraternity, and took top honors among stories in all alumnae magazines in 2012.
As the Sycamore Grows tells a true story about a seventeen-year abusive marriage; a Sleeping with the Enemy in the Tennessee backwoods, as told by Ginger, who escaped, and Mike, who abused and holds no remorse. The nonfiction narrative walked away with six literary awards and a book club “Book of the Year” prize between 2010 and 2011.
Family Matters traces a family’s history from stone cutters of the Cologne Cathedral in Germany to Irish castle ruins to pirates and sugar plantations in Haiti to Augusta, Georgia. A leather-bound limited edition, the 2013 book is in the rare book collection of the Augusta library and the Georgia State Department of History and Archives.
And more. She has worked from the grassroots to national levels advocating for women’s and children’s issues. She twice presided over Voices for Alabama’s Children; chaired the board of Alabama’s Dept. of Human Relations, the state agency which oversaw all social programs in the state, with 5,300 clients per month and a $1.6 billion budget. In 2012, Kappa Kappa Gamma honored her with the Alumna Achievement Award, the highest award of this international women’s organization. In 2017 she was elected to the Board of The American Society of Journalists and Authors.
She’s afraid if she doesn’t learn to write faster, she’ll never have time to tell all the stories swimming in her head.
Jennie lives in Atlanta now near her three grandchildren. They used to go fishing. Jennie threaded the worms. Now the kids are teens and they walk Jennie through computer snags.