Alumna’s ‘Ten Thousand Saints,’ Adapted to Film, Hits the Big Screen This Month

Eleanor Henderson wrote her debut novel, “Ten Thousand Saints,” while a creative writing graduate student at the University of Virginia. Now it’s coming out Aug. 14 as a major motion picture and will be available via video on demand.

U.Va.’s Master of Fine Arts graduates have an impressive track record of publication, but it’s rare that a debut novel gets adapted to film. Henderson visited the set in New York City’s East Village last year, brushed shoulders with the directors and actors –Ethan Hawke, Hailee Steinfeld and Asa Butterfield are the headliners – and observed the filming in action.

Shari Springer Berman and Bob Pulcini, who wrote and directed the Oscar-nominated “American Splendor” and other movies, wrote the screenplay and directed the film, which got good reviews at the Sundance Film Festival and was picked up for distribution there.

“I adore it. It’s a skillful adaptation,” Henderson said of the script. “I was moved to hear the actors saying the words I wrote in my Charlottesville apartment.”

The novel captures the 1980s punk music scene known as “straight edge,” whose devotees swore off drugs, alcohol, sex and meat, but still managed to get in fights at well-known nightclubs, such as the famed CBGB.

When the main character, Jude (played by Butterfield), loses his best friend to an overdose, he leaves his distracted mother and heads to the city, where he reconnects with his marijuana-dealing dad (Hawke) and his straight-edge stepbrother (Emile Hirsch). He also befriends his father’s girlfriend’s daughter (Hailee Steinfeld), who comes to play a major role in his new life.

After coming out in nine cities on Aug. 14, the film will have a wider release on Aug. 21. It won’t open in Charlottesville until later; the closest showings will be in Washington, D.C., at the Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market and in Charlotte, North Carolina at the AMC Concord Mills 24.

Henderson – who makes a cameo in the final scene with her family – recently took a few minutes to answer questions for UVA Today from her home in Ithaca, New York.

Q. Are you going to a premiere of the movie?

A. The movie won’t have an official red carpet premiere (other than at the Sundance Film Festival, which I attended in January). … I’ll also be at the opening nights in Ithaca, New York and Washington, D.C.

Q. How was it seeing the final movie?

A. Exhilarating.

Q. How is it changing your life?

A. It’s making it much more difficult to concentrate on my next novel! I hope it will also bring new, and possibly younger, readers to “Ten Thousand Saints.” A movie tie-in edition (was published) July 28.

Q. What’s coming next for you?

A. I’m taking the year off of teaching to finish my second novel, “The Twelve-Mile Straight,” set on a sharecropper’s farm in South Georgia during the Great Depression. [She already has publishers in the U.S., the U.K. and France.]

Q. Advice for U.Va. writing students?

A. Take your time. Try not to despair about publishing your work, but allow yourself to dream about it. Surround yourself with work and people who allow you time and space to write. And if you can’t do that, make the time and space anyway.

Q. Did you have a favorite place at U.Va. or in Charlottesville? 

A. I wrote much of “Ten Thousand Saints” at C-ville Coffee and at the Mudhouse in Crozet. I miss those coffee shops!

Media Contact

Anne E. Bromley

University News Associate Office of University Communications