Community

Why Maine became such a popular literary destination

"There’s something about this area that inspires storytelling," Portland bookseller Stephanie Heinz said.

Join the Boston.com Book Club Wednesday, June 30 at 6 p.m. for a virtual discussion with Print: A Bookstore‘s Stephanie Heinz and featured guest W.S. Winslow on her debut novel, “The Northern Reach.” AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty

After nearly six months in New York City working in Penguin Random House’s publicity department, Stephanie Heinz made a “mostly sudden” move to Portland, Maine with a week’s worth of clothing and no job lined up. She always had her sights set on the publishing industry, but still couldn’t shake the memory of a college course she took detailing the history of bookstores and their role as community spaces. So when Heinz heard that Print, a new bookstore, was opening in Portland, she immediately emailed the owners about open positions. That was nearly five years ago and she’s been with Print ever since, currently as the shop’s Children’s Manager and Community Coordinator.

Advertisement:

“I’m really excited to keep finding ways to develop those community relationships,” said Heinz. “As the store finds its footing, that’s the thing we always come back to. We want to be here to serve the community, to uplift peoples voices, to be a space that anyone can walk in and find a story that’s going to reflect them.”

Fascinated by the state since elementary school, it’s no surprise that Heinz decided to put down roots in Maine. It’s well known as a popular locale for literary folks and other creative types, and has inspired countless novels, poems, essays with its rugged beauty and palpable sense of culture and place. This month’s Book Club pick, W.S. Winslow’s “The Northern Reach,” expertly captures that same unique Maine energy Heinz was intrigued by all of her life.

Advertisement:

“There’s something about this area that inspires storytelling,” she said. “Part of it, I think comes from the fact that people are here for generations. That comes up in the book as well—there are people who might go, but they come back to the town where their family was from and they want to feel that sense of heritage. I think that’s something very apparent in this state.”

Another theme in the novel that struck Heinz as she was reading is the idea of inheritance. Not just in terms of money or physical objects, but the history, joys traumas, and memories that thread together different generations. Also, the way that the book captures the hardships that can come with life in Maine.

Advertisement:

“There’s a sense of isolation that can happen both from the fact that there is a long culture of keeping to yourself and not airing the family drama in those old families,” said Heinz. “There can come challenges with that, especially in modern times looking how the opioid epidemic has affected the state, seeing the themes of alcoholism in the book.”

“The Northern Reach” bounces between the perspectives of many different characters, but the one that resonated most with Heinz, who hails from Pennsylvania originally, was that of Liliane—an outsider who married into a well-known Maine family. Yet despite Maine’s reputation as being not too amenable to “far awayers”—as the locals would say— Heinz has found significant ways to tap into the local literary community. She’s forged partnerships with non profits such as The Telling Room, which hosts writing workshops for children the state’s immigrant and refugee population; I’m Your Neighbor, a traveling library with reads by Maine’s “new arrivals” population; and the Indigo Arts Alliance, which celebrates Black artists. Connecting with organizations like these is Heinz’s way of shaping and redefining what we think of when we think of Maine writers and she hopes to see the definition become much more diverse in the future.

Advertisement:

“I know we always run into the problem when we’re pitching for events and publishers will reach out to us and say, ‘Here is this woodsy book by this white person and look how Maine it is.’ But that’s not all Maine is and it can be hard to get people to recognize that,” said Heinz. “Maine also does have a history and a heritage of creators of color. I’m super excited to see people recognizing that group of creatives that is just as much a part of Maine as the Richard Russos, which are amazing stories, but there’s so much more to being here. I hope that is something that continues to get represented and celebrated in terms of the literary expectations of Maine.”


Join our virtual Book Club discussion

Join the Boston.com Book Club Wednesday, June 30 at 6 p.m. for a virtual discussion with Print: A Bookstore‘s Stephanie Heinz and featured guest W.S. Winslow on her debut novel, “The Northern Reach.”

Advertisement:

Buy “The Northern Reach” from: Bookshop | Print: A Bookstore 

Boston.com Book Club picks:

Jump To Comments

Conversation

This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com