Nancy Henderson-James


I was born in Tacoma, WA into a minister's family, who soon decided to become missionaries in Angola, Portuguese West Africa. I learned Portuguese at the same time I was learning English, and I later learned French and Latin. Languages and the larger world have remained important parts of my identity. As a missionary kid, I spent significant portions of my childhood, beginning at age 9, going to school away from home, another vital shaper of my life. I attended part of high school in Southern Rhodesia, left Africa suddenly, at age 16, when the war for independence began in Angola, and I finished high school in Tacoma in a state of severe culture shock. Who was I and where did I belong?

College at Carleton in Minnesota not only put me back into the familiar embraces of dorm life, but also was where I gradually found my place as an American in the many movements swirling through society: the antiwar movement, Civil Rights, Women's Lib. I felt right at home with all the ferment. It was there that I met my husband-to-be, Doug James, and his family in the Twin Cities. With my family still in Angola, I adopted the Jameses as my own. We were married a year after we graduated. Doug became a high school teacher in a very small MN town and I tried to find something to do with my art history degree; obvious things like waitressing, becoming a nurse's aide, and a candy decorator (yes, like Lucy). Searching for creative activity, I became a mother to Nathan, and began a family to replace the one I had missed as I grew up. I also learned how to do every variety of craft (macramé, linoleum printing, crochet and knitting, tie-dye, potting, you name it!) During that time, I decided I'd like to be a librarian, but getting there required moving away from small town MN. We moved to Brooklyn, where Doug's mother lived, and I got my degree at Pratt Institute. When Doug decided to leave teaching and go into health administration at Duke, we moved to Durham, where we had another son, Noel. And here we have stayed for the next 36+ years.

I found work as a librarian at Jordan High School and remained there for 25 years, through all the incredible changes in libraries wrought by computers. After Jordan, I worked part time for 5 years at the UNC Children's Hospital School, as their first librarian.

I never lived outside the US after leaving Africa in 1961, but we made sure to take our kids on trips all over Europe, the US, and Mexico. After Noel spent a semester in Czech Republic, he gave us a tour of his favorite spots. Doug and I like to cycle and have taken several extended bicycle trips in Wisconsin, the Natchez Trace, the C&O Canal, the Great Allegheny Passage in PA, the Midi Canal in France. In 2010 I will take my husband, sons, and one daughter in law back to Angola to show them my old home. In 2009 I published a childhood memoir of growing up in southern Africa called At Home Abroad: An American Girl in Africa. Who knows? Perhaps this trip home to Angola after 40+ years will bring forth another book.

My community responsibilities have included PTA, many years with Friends of the Durham Library, and our neighborhood association. We have belonged to a marriage enrichment group for many years. We have always loved cooking and eating with friends and look forward to many delicious shared meals in the coho.