Author Anita Shreve, who summered in Maine for much of her life and drew inspiration and story ideas from its rugged coast, died Thursday at her New Hampshire home after a yearlong battle with cancer. She was 71.

Among her 18 books were “The Pilot’s Wife,” “Resistance” and “The Weight of Water,” all of which were made into movies. Her last novel, “The Stars Are Fire,” was set among the horrific wild fires that devastated much of Maine in 1947. Shreve grew up in Massachusetts and started coming to Maine as a child during summers. She owned a home in the Biddeford Pool area for more than 20 years and lived there year-round for several years as well.

In an April 2017 interview in the Maine Sunday Telegram, Shreve talked about how important her time in Maine had been to her over the years as a way to rest, recharge and clear her head for new challenges and new stories.

“I sit on the porch and I look at the water. I’m sort of astonished at the number of hours you can spend doing this. You’re not remotely bored. You’re not wishing you were doing something else. You are just absorbing something very, very health-giving. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to meditating. And it’s not formal at all, you sit there and your mind just empties,” Shreve said during the interview. In a statement from Penguin Random House announcing her death, Shreve’s editor, Jordan Pavlin, lauded the power of her pen to touch “the lives of millions of readers around the world.” He said Shreve did “some of her most elegant, rich and unforgettable work in the last years of her life.”

Shreve told the Maine Sunday Telegram that part of the inspiration for “The Stars Are Fire,” which was published last April, came from the time she spent over the years at Biddeford Pool. Many homes near Fortunes Rocks Beach had burned during the 1947 fires, and she had heard stories from neighbors for years. She had long considered doing a book set during the fires.

Later she read a history of the fires, “Wildfire Loose: The Week Maine Burned” by Joyce Butler. One particular detail in that book caught Shreve’s attention: Some women had to take their children into the sea, and stay there, to remain safe while the fires raged. “The Stars are Fire” focuses on one young mother, Grace Holland, who is caring for two young children when the fires start.


Shreve began a publicity tour when the book came out on April 18, 2017. She was in Portland, scheduled to talk to a Maine Sunday Telegram reporter, when she got medical news that caused her to cancel the in-person interview. Instead, she did the interview by phone in the car on her way to a medical appointment. Two days later, she canceled her book tour and told fans on Facebook she would be undergoing chemotherapy. Her book tour was scheduled to end with a talk in Biddeford Pool in July.

She said on Facebook she hoped to see readers on subsequent tours and that it would be “a thrill” for her to hear from readers while she was recovering.

Shreve attended Tufts University, where she got a degree in English. She taught high school English near Boston for several years, while trying to write as well. She worked as a journalist in Africa and wrote nonfiction for magazines and newspapers before turning to fiction writing in the late 1980s. Her first novel was “Eden Close” in 1989.

Since then, Shreve’s books have sold more than 6 million copies. She gained international fame when her 1998 novel “The Pilot’s Wife” was picked as an Oprah’s Book Club selection and was later made into a TV movie starring Christine Lahti and Campbell Scott. Two other novels of hers became films: “The Weight of Water,” starring Sean Penn and Elizabeth Hurley, and “Resistance,” starring Bill Paxton and Julia Ormond.

Shreve said she used a white, clapboard 1890s house with a mansard roof in southern Maine as the model for the house in several of her novels, including “The Pilot’s Wife” and “Body Surfing.” She didn’t want to say specifically where it was, for fear of bothering the owners.

She also said she used the ocean as a metaphor in several books. When asked why the sea has a central role in much of her work, she told the Maine Sunday Telegram with a laugh, “I keep looking at it.”

Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

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Twitter: @RayRouthier

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