The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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John Henley Oral History Interviews. December 22, 2014

John Henley Oral History Interviews

Two life history interviews conducted by Chris Petersen.

December 22, 2014

Location:  Valley Library, Oregon State University.

John Henley (b. 1951) is a Portland native and appraiser of rare books and manuscripts who was instrumental in building Powell's Books, serving as the store's first manager and remaining on staff for more than a decade. He is also the son of Elizabeth Henley (1912-1981), an accomplished poet and former member of the English faculty at Oregon State. In the 1930s, during her tenure as an English professor at the University of Washington, Elizabeth Henley was active in the American Communist Party. In 1956, fearful of the potential repercussions that might arise from her past political activities, Henley consented to being committed to the Oregon State Penitentiary for the Criminally Insane. She remained there for more than two years before securing her release and joining the staff at Oregon State College. She taught English at Oregon State from 1959 to her retirement in 1975. Over two interviews, John Henley tells his mother's remarkable story; details the history of Powell's Books; and shares numerous other tales of a life spent scouting rare books and working in the retail book trade.