Down East center focusing more on literary arts

Author Barbar Hurd listens during a discussion at a prose writing conference sponsored by the Cobscook Community Learning Center on Campobello Island recently. Hurd served on the faculty and taught short creative nonfiction and essays.
Penny Guisinger
Author Barbar Hurd listens during a discussion at a prose writing conference sponsored by the Cobscook Community Learning Center on Campobello Island recently. Hurd served on the faculty and taught short creative nonfiction and essays.
Posted Aug. 27, 2014, at 7:47 a.m.
Author Suzanne Strempek Shea (second from left) leads a discussion at a prose writing conference sponsored by the Cobscook Community Learning Center on Campobello Island recently. She served on the faculty and taught short fiction.
Penny Guisinger | Contributed Photo
Author Suzanne Strempek Shea (second from left) leads a discussion at a prose writing conference sponsored by the Cobscook Community Learning Center on Campobello Island recently. She served on the faculty and taught short fiction.
Maine author Bill Roorbach will be the guest speaker at a fundraiser at the Cobscook Community Learning Center in Trescott on Saturday evening. He will talk about his new novel, &quotThe Remedy for Love," to be released in October, as well as his most recent novel, &quotLife Among Giants," which is being turned into a series for HBO.
Contributed Photo
Maine author Bill Roorbach will be the guest speaker at a fundraiser at the Cobscook Community Learning Center in Trescott on Saturday evening. He will talk about his new novel, "The Remedy for Love," to be released in October, as well as his most recent novel, "Life Among Giants," which is being turned into a series for HBO.

TRESCOTT, Maine — The Cobscook Community Learning Center is putting more focus on the writing arts and in the process is stepping out more into the literary limelight.

The nonprofit center, which also operates a community high school program, recently wrapped up its second annual prose conference and this weekend will host a fundraiser featuring acclaimed Maine author Bill Roorbach. At a fundraiser two years ago the center’s guest was Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Ford.

Penny Guisinger, the center’s director of development and communication, said expanding and strengthening programming for the literary arts is one of the center’s goals.

The latest conference — held over four days at Roosevelt Campobello International Park on Campobello Island — featured study tracks in short creative nonfiction, short fiction and prose poetry. The conference, led by three award-winning faculty, drew 18 people from throughout New England and from as far away as Washington, D.C., and Chicago.

“People loved it,” said Guisinger, who talked recently about the conference and the center’s activities, “and we anticipate that the event will grow every year.”

The Cobscook Community Learning Center offers classes and workshops in areas such as Zumba, foraging for wild plants, computer skills, basket weaving and learning to play guitar. It also offers individual lessons and children’s programs, including camps, and puts on special events and festivals as well as regular events, such as a coffee house and live music.

Now the center is offering more writing-related courses, noted Guisinger, who will teach a course this fall called “Revising Your Creative Prose.”

Writing programs are “well within the spectrum” of what the center can offer, said Guisinger. “It’s a good fit.”

The added programs for literary arts shows the center is becoming “a bit of a hub” for writers and people interested in reading, she added.

“We’re really committed to offering that sort of programming,” Valerie Lawson, the center’s program manager, said Monday. The increased focus on the literary arts has been “an organic process,” she said. “When you have two strong writers on staff,” and others associated with the center who are interested in literary arts, “it happens real easily.”

“It’s been great to see it evolve,” added Lawson.

Lawson has a background in poetry. She and her partner, Michael Brown, are editors of Off the Coast, a literary journal they have been publishing since 2008 that features poetry from around the world. They were members of the Boston poetry community until they relocated to the region in 2007.

Guisinger earned a master of fine arts degree in creative writing through the University of Southern Maine Stonecoast program. She conceived of the idea for the prose conference while she was enrolled in the MFA program. Each student was required to do a semester project, and Guisinger decided to “launch something that would last longer than my degree program.”

Lawson and Guisinger serve on the board of directors of the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance, and the center has partnered with the alliance, hosting its workshops on the center campus. The two organizations held a joint fundraising event in Portland in the spring featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Russo and National Book Award finalist Andre Dubus III.

The center hosts a bi-weekly meeting of writers who gather to share and develop their work. The sessions, led by Lawson and Brown, draw eight people regularly, and they have 12 books published among them. “We’re taking this very seriously,” said Lawson.

The events and programs have a positive economic impact, she acknowledged, although there is more, she suggested. “We’re just trying to open up this area of the state,” said Lawson, to the writing community — a “beautiful place that writers would like” because of its “quiet and natural beauty.”

Artists and writers are “the ones who tell about (a) place…It brings people here,” said Lawson, and helps them understand the value of the region.

The center completed construction of a lodge building this year that can accommodate 50 people, which has “opened up a whole new opportunity,” said Guisinger, to host overnight conferences and other events.

The appearances of authors like Ford and Roorbach are part of the center’s focus to invite artists of that level and make them accessible to the people of Down East Maine, Guisinger said.

The fundraiser on Saturday includes a reception with Roorbach at 6 p.m., and he will speak and read from his works starting at 7:30. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door, which includes the reception; tickets for the reading only are $10.

Roorbach, who lives in Farmington, connected with the center when he and his family attended the Down East Spring Birding Festival several years ago. The festival is a program offered by the center.

“I became a supporter when I learned about all they do for the communities in that area and for the greater community, all of us in Maine,” Roorbach told the BDN via e-mail recently.” The CCLC is a great model for rural community culture and learning, also fun.”

The author will talk about his new novel, “The Remedy for Love,” which is set in western Maine and will be published in October. In addition, he will talk about his most recent novel, “Life Among Giants,” and his involvement in adapting it into a six-year series for HBO. “I’ll read just a little from both books, talk about writing in Maine, and take questions,” he said.

Besides working on the pilot script for the HBO production of “Life Among Giants,” Roorbach is preparing for a tour to launch “The Remedy for Love” and is working on a new novel and a book of stories.

 

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