April Heaslip's story enriched by move to the Swannanoa Valley

Shelly Frome
Special to Black Mountain News
Southern New Hampshire University professor April Heaslip felt the triple crown of Black Mountain - community, nature and openness- made it the perfect place to live as he writes her book on the regeneration of the feminine.

Like a gifted actress, a true mythologist is deeply engaged in the timelessness of stories and the spirit of the moment. By the same token, recently ensconced in a cozy cabin high above North Fork/Right Fork, April Heaslip took time out to examine the evolution of her own story and what continues to sustain her.  

“As a young girl I used to visit the museum at the University of Pennsylvania and was fascinated with archaeology and what was hidden under the earth," she said. "I was also a voracious reader searching for wisdom. I found the pantheon of gods and goddesses so interesting as they fought, schemed and were caught up in this never-ending dynamic.”

Recalling another operative element in her own story arc, Heaslip noted her family was always displaced, moving from Westchester County New York to Westchester County Pennsylvania. Her father was a Madison Avenue ad man, a World War ll veteran, a writer and a consummate storyteller. Among his ventures, he worked with Mountbatten in India and possessed a bag of star sapphires gifted from a rajah, engendering an abiding sense of wonder.  

Continuing life as outsiders, her parents found affordable housing between Amish and Mennonite communities. At the same time, Heaslip was enrolled in a program for exceptional students focusing on creativity and problem solving.

“From the age of nine I was told it was okay to be open and curious," she said. "We engaged in the Olympics of the Mind which became the Odyssey of the Mind. I was able to go on national trips with my classmates to compete in creative problem solving. On one venture we put together a play based on "Moby Dick," where I even got to make the costumes. So my family background, my reading and creative experiences, and becoming an exchange student in Brazil, really shaped my early years.”

As part of her new discovery, she found San Paulo was very European, warm and communal, and fond of provocative conversation. At the age of 19, she began teaching English there, and added that interplay to her sense of ”holding space for inquiry.”

She moved back to the U.S. when her parents became ill and continued her studies at Westchester University majoring in psychology and women’s studies. She went on to Godard, that quintessential free-spirited college in Vermont.

When her parents passed away, grief became integral to her evolving consciousness. She also deepened her understanding of the ways women were repressed.

“Soon, I began to realize every time I tried to adjust, I got sick," Heaslip said. "But when I followed my bliss and fully went into teaching which fed my abiding need to learn, I thrived. It was also so heartening to realize emerging women’s models were becoming so potent and powerful. You see, when a system isn’t working, we need to shift our perception. It’s a matter of being present with what is actually showing up and letting go of our intentions.”

As a mythologist, she feels we can invoke the potential of classic stories and ask ourselves, for example, what is the shadow side of this current situation showing us and how can we work with it? Or, "how can we be in dialogue with all of life and listen?”

Heaslip continues to engage with her students at Southern New Hampshire University through the internet, teaching popular culture and diversity, tracing how themes transform, help us to understand ourselves, and hold their own. In addition, she is writing a book for the University of Mississippi Press on the regeneration of the feminine.

At the same time, her life is enriched by her new surroundings in the above the Swannanoa Valley.

“I wanted to try something new,” she said. “A place with a temperate climate, healthy living, fostering the arts and social justice. There is great water here and I love being embraced by the mountains. Black Mountain has the triple crown. I feel the support of a strong community, there’s the quiet of being in nature and the trees and I find the naturally grown food, music and warmth and openness of the people so vital to individual and collective living.”