Laura Lee Huttenbach



When I was a little girl, my Granddad used to tell me stories at bedtime. His stories were usually about his childhood in Upstate New York and the pranks his four siblings would play on one other. Granddad’s stories took me to a different time and place, and I loved laughing at the antics of younger versions of my great aunts and uncles. I learned a lot from his stories, but it never felt like learning. He was the president of the local library, which meant he had keys to the place, and we could go and pick out books after hours. To me, those keys to the library made my Granddad seem like the most powerful person in the world.

I grew up in Atlanta, the baby of four in my family. By five years old, I was on a soccer team, and my siblings taught me how to slide tackle.  My mother thought that sports were a great way for a young girl to learn about teamwork and discipline, and to build confidence. I think being an athlete has helped me in writing. You don’t get better without practice. You need to get over losing sometimes. And you need to shake hands with the other team.

 After high school I attended the University of Virginia, where I majored in history and government. I also studied for a summer in Lima, Peru, and for a semester in Argentina, where I studied human rights and ate lots of steak and dulce de leche ice cream. I spent ten months after graduation teaching English in Brazil in a beach town called Macae. At the invitation of a friend in the Peace Corps, I traveled to Lesotho in 2006 and spent six months backpacking up the east coast of Africa, traveling by public transport through Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya.

It was in Meru, Kenya that I met an 85-year-old tea farmer named Japhlet Thambu, who was known in his community as the General. In the 1950s, the General had been a leader in an uprising against British colonial rule that became known as the Mau Mau Rebellion. He told me fascinating stories and showed me a side of history that I’d never learned in school. In some ways, he reminded me of Granddad. Though I only spent a couple of days with the General on that trip, after I got home I found that I couldn’t stop thinking about his life. In 2009, I moved to his family’s coffee and tea farm in the eastern slopes of Mount Kenya. For nearly three months, I lived with the family and recorded the General as he told me his stories. The resulting work was my first book, The Boy is Gone, published by Ohio University Press in 2015.

 In 2011, craving salt water and sunshine, I moved to Miami Beach, where I started running with a local legend called Raven. In 1975, Raven made a New Year’s resolution to run eight miles in the sand every day, without exception, and he hasn’t missed a day since. In Raven’s decades of running, about 3,000 people from over 90 countries have joined him for eight miles in the sand. Through Raven, I met best friends and uncovered the fascinating history of Miami Beach. My second book, Running with Raven, was published by Kensington Press in April 2017.   

By that time, I had moved to New York as a graduate student and Chair’s Fellow at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. (I’ll graduate in May 2019.) In addition to studying, I teach, run, write, read, and attend events like the Banjo Throwing Competition in Brooklyn, where I threw a banjo 45 feet into the Gowanus Canal. This accomplishment was awarded with my very own banjo, which I don’t know how to play. I live with my husband in Manhattan, a city full of worlds.