ORONO, Maine — For renowned horror writer Stephen King and the friends from the University of Maine who collaborated on a new book about their experiences on the Orono campus during the tumultuous 1960s, a reading and “rap session” Monday night was a homecoming of sorts.
But King said that his role in “Hearts in Suspension” wasn’t something he initially thought he wanted when he first was asked to participate.
“The bottom line was I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back because those were turbulent years,” he said during his talk, which included a reading from the book and a question-and-answer session with most of its contributors.
King also noted that he did little research for his essay, writing it mostly from memory, and that he did not read his fellow contributors’ essays until after the book was printed.
“Anyway, reading those memoirs was a little bit like — you know the scene in ‘Tom Sawyer’ where Tom and Huck were presumed to have drowned and they get to go to their own funeral?” he asked, saying that reading what others wrote about him felt the same way.
“It’s a little bit like I died without being dead,” said King, while strolling back and forth on the stage wearing an olive green T-shirt with a large white peace sign on the front.
“All these people wrote, and they didn’t just write about me, but I appeared sometimes in [the essays],” he said, noting that he never knew he was “such a slouchish, shambler. I’ve been described that way over and over again,” he said during the talk that was filled with stories about his time on the campus, becoming a writer and a few barbs at presidential candidate Donald Trump, whom he has said scares him to death.
The event at Hutchins Concert Hall, which took place on the eve of Tuesday’s official launch of “Hearts in Suspension,” drew a full house of nearly 1,500 to the Collins Center for the Arts
UMaine Press Director Michael Alpert drew applause when he announced that King had asked that royalties generated by the book go to the campus publishing house, enabling it to issue books in science, the arts and the humanities that it would otherwise could not afford to release.
King was introduced by Jim Bishop, the Bangor author’s first English professor at UMaine — who said he gave King a C on his first writing assignment and who edited the nonfiction book, which focuses on the shared experiences of that corps of young writers, activists and ideologues on a campus then known as “UMO.”
The book reflects the era it describes: It’s a communal writing effort of King and his classmates and friends of the time, all of whom seek to illuminate those years when a landslide of societal change took center stage. An unpopular, undeclared war raged in Vietnam. Civil rights marches and demonstrations were staged in the South. On campuses, student activism grew, as did drug use, and a much more liberal mindset began to take hold.
In addition to Bishop’s essay and his introduction to the book, there are other personal narratives reflecting on the UMaine student experience by Alpert, David Bright, Keith Carreiro, Harold Crosby, Sherry Dec, Bruce Holsapple, Frank Kadi, Diane McPherson, Larry Moskowitz, Jim H. Smith and Philip Thompson.
Bright was the editor of the student newspaper, Crosby was King’s freshman roommate, and Moskowitz was the head of the SDS chapter on campus. All were with King in the anti-war movement and bear witness to “a formative time in their lives and a defining moment in the country’s history,” according to the publisher on the book’s dust jacket.
Nine of those 12 writers joined King on stage for a lively question-and-answer session. Moskowitz, McPherson and Holsapple were unable to attend.
BDN writer John Holyoke contributed to this report.