In 2013, Michele Christle and Meghan Dowling were newly settled in Greater Bangor, both teaching adjunct English classes at the University of Maine and at Husson University, respectively, and both novelists and short story writers. Naturally, they became friends.
Christle, who went to graduate school at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Dowling, who attended UMaine for her MA and then the University of Denver in Colorado for her Ph.D., were missing the literary scenes Denver and Amherst supported.
“I just missed having a literary scene. There are other parts of the country where that’s a really strong, thriving part of the arts community, but it wasn’t so much here, and I missed that acutely,” said Dowling, who recently completed her debut novel, “A Catalogue of Small Pains,” which is awaiting publication.
Bangor has grown leaps and bounds in recent years in terms of the number of arts and cultural events happening in the city and UMaine has had longstanding literary programming with the New Writing Series, but Christle and Dowling wanted more. So, with the help of several other area writers and educators, they decided to make their own literary scene.
The Norumbega Collective, a group of area writers and poets founded by Christle, Dowling, UMaine English professor Gregory Howard and Husson educator Clinton Spaulding, was founded in early 2014 to promote the literary arts in the Bangor region. The first reading was in spring of 2014, and the group has since held readings every one to two months at various locations in downtown Bangor, including The Rock & Art Shop, the Central Gallery, COESPACE, the Reverend Noble Pub and the Bangor Public Library.
The next Norumbega Collective reading is set for 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 28 at The Rock & Art Shop on Central St., and will feature Peaks Island-based memoirist Mira Ptacin. The event, like all collective events, is free, though donations are accepted.
“We felt like there weren’t a ton of opportunities to be exposed to readings by a wide variety of people,” Christle said. “Just going to a reading and being around other writers and people who love writing can do so much to inform your own writing practice.”
The collective has hosted readings from poets including Jessica Fjeld, Henry Finch, Arielle Greenberg and UMaine professor Jennifer Moxley and fiction writers including collective co-founder Gregory Howard, Sara Majka, Andrea Lawlor and local novelist Katie Lattari. Other events have blurred the line between a straightforward poetry or fiction reading and a performance event, such as poet, playwright and performance artist Benjamin Hersey paired with Portland experimental musician ID M Theftable and a performance from poet-musicians Daniel Mahoney and Daniel Hales.
“Our focus is usually writers from away, so that people are exposed to a greater variety of things, but we also try to pair local writers up with other readers,” Christle said.
After more than 20 readings, the group has seen attendance levels rise — and draw from a much broader geographic area.
“Instead of it just being a bunch of grad students and their friends, we’ve found that we’re pulling in a wider range of people. Folks are coming out of the woodworks,” Dowling said. “We’ve had people coming from MDI, coming from the coast. In the past year or so, it’s really started to grow.”
Collective members make a point of asking every new audience member where they’re from and how they found out about the reading.
“We’ve had teenagers come, we’ve had elderly people. … We really try to be very accessible and friendly to everyone. One of the nicest things to hear is that a number of the writers we’ve hosted have said that they sell more books at our readings than at readings in New York or Boston,” Christle said. “I think people are really hungry for things like this.”
The collective in 2017 is hoping to increase not only the number of readings it offers but also the profile of the writers it hosts, as well as plan some collaborative events with other organizations and potentially work with local high schools to offer writing workshops.
“I think there are some amazing opportunities to offer writing workshops for local youth. I used to teach, and I really miss having that direct contact with young people that are excited about writing,” Christle said.
They have received some funding from the UMaine Humanities Center and donations from audience members, and all the venues where readings have been hosted have donated their space, but a more substantial fundraising effort is planned for later this year, in hopes of hosting an event at a larger venue.
“One of our big pushes for this year is grant writing and fundraising opportunities,” Dowling said. “But all four of us are volunteers, and we all have jobs and kids and all that kind of stuff, so it’s a process to make it all happen.”
Dowling and Christle have seen Bangor change, culturally speaking, in the four years since they moved to the area.
“I remember when I first moved here in 2013, I was sitting in a coffee shop downtown in the middle of winter and thinking, ‘How will I maintain happiness and sanity here?’ I was so uncertain,” Christle said. “But I kept watching the people around me talking, both younger and older people, and thinking, ‘There’s something here. There’s something that can take root.’ And four years later, I think we’re just generally seeing that.”
For more information on upcoming Norumbega Collective events, visit norumbegacollective.wordpress.com or like them on Facebook.