Avid readers will tell you it’s always a good time for a book festival.

Members of the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance had been thinking about starting a literary festival when the first wave of COVID-19 shut the world down in March of 2020. That was definitely not a good time to be inviting folks out into public spaces to hear authors and poets, so organizers decided to wait.

This year, as COVID-19 lingers and continues to complicate public life, those same literary-minded organizers decided to push ahead. The first Maine Lit Fest is scheduled to run Friday through Oct. 8 in Waterville and Portland. It will feature some 50 authors from Maine and around the country at about two dozen events in the two cities. The festival is presented by the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance and the Colby College creative writing program.

“We decided that there’s probably never going to be a perfect time, this is the new normal, so let’s move ahead,” said Gibson Fay-LeBlanc, executive director of the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. “We wanted something that would reach a wide range of people and brings in both Maine writers and writers of interest from all over.”

The festival features authors, illustrators and poets, including some newly published authors, Native writers, food and cookbook writers, science writers and young-adult authors. There will be several panel discussions of current political and social issues, including immigration, socioeconomic diversity and LGBTQ issues. There’ll also be a “draw-off” among children’s illustrators, as well as a literary crawl, with liquid refreshments.

Maine author Morgan Talty will be part of “A Celebration of Native Writers” during Maine Lit Fest Friday through Oct. 8.  Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The festival is not only a chance for readers to see and hear from a wide variety of writers, but it allows Maine authors a chance to reach new audiences and make personal connections with readers. This is especially important to Maine authors in rural parts of the state, far from the population centers of southern Maine. Or in some cases, Maine authors spending time in other states.


Author Leigh Ellis of Raymond, for instance, is currently studying writing at Columbia University in New York but will take part in a Zoom event during the festival on Oct. 5 called “Trans Voices, Trans Futures,” featuring a panel discussing the power of writing by trans authors and “the importance of finding power, hope and joy in their words,” according to the festival’s website. Ellis is the author of the young adult magical realism novel “Bach in the Barn.”

“I think it’s a really exciting idea and will give me an opportunity to engage with other Maine writers,” said Ellis. “I’m really excited to engage with the community and hear from people.”

Children’s book author and illustrator Chris Van Dusen will participate in a “draw-off” during Maine Lit Fest. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

All of the festival’s events are free except one. Tickets are $15 for the Oct. 6 conversation with New York-based writer Brandon Taylor and Maine novelist Lily King at the University of Southern Maine’s Hannaford Hall in Portland. For a complete list of events, including times, locations and bios on the participants, go to mainewriters.org.


The festival kicks off Friday in Waterville with a public reception featuring food, drink and music at the Colby College Museum of Art at 6 p.m. That will be followed by a conversation in the Bixler Art and Music Center between nationally-known short story writer Carmen Maria Machado and Colby creative writing professor and novelist Sarah Braunstein.

On Saturday in Waterville, there’ll be a slate of events at Greene Block + Studio on Main Street. These include “Big Nate” comic strip author/illustrator Lincoln Peirce of Portland giving a talk, a panel on the business of writing featuring Colby alumni, lunch time poetry with former Maine Poet Laureate Stuart Kestenbaum and Maine-based poet and writer Annaliese Jakimides, and a poetry workshop with current Maine Poet Laureate Julia Bouwsma. There will be a panel of local cookbook and food writers, including Press Herald food and books editor Peggy Grodinsky.


Saturday’s events in Waterville end with an evening talk titled “The Writing Life, Friendship and Food” given by Pulitizer Prize-winning novelist Richard Russo of Portland, who taught at Colby, his daughter and author Kate Russo, and author and transgender activist Jennifer Finney Boylan, who also taught at Colby.

Julia Bouwsma, Maine’s Poet Laureate, will give a workshop during Maine Lit Fest. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The Portland events are spread out over five days, beginning Tuesday, Oct. 4, at USM’s Hannaford Hall with “A Celebration of Native Writers,” featuring Morgan Talty, Terese Marie Mailhot and Joan Naviyuk Kane. Talty is a citizen of the Penobscot Indian Nation who recently published a story collection called “Night of the Living Rez.” 

On Oct. 5, there’ll be a happy hour with music and author readings at The Public Works, an events space on Alder Street, as well as the virtual event “Trans Voices, Trans Futures.” The conversation between Taylor and King will take place Oct. 6 at USM. King has written five novels, including “Writers & Lovers” in 2020, while Taylor is author of the novel “Real Life,” which was a finalist for the 2020 Booker Prize.

Author and activist Jennifer Finney Boylan will be speaking at Maine Lit Fest. Photo courtesy of Maine Lit Fest

Mechanics Hall in Portland will host a conversation between Maine-based writer Rebecca Traister and Maine-born author Kerri Arsenault on the evening of Oct. 7. Traister is a National Magazine Award winner who has covered politics, media and entertainment, while Arsenault is the author of a 2020 investigative memoir centered on Rumford called “Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains.”

On the final of day of the festival, Saturday, Oct. 8, there will be 10 or so events in Monument Square from 10 a.m. until about 9:30 p.m. The day begins with a bilingual, multicultural story hour featuring various readers, including actors from The Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine, followed by a “draw-off” drawing challenge between two well-known Maine children’s book illustrator/authors, Chris Van Dusen of Camden and Scott Nash of Peaks Island.

There’ll be a noon poetry reading by Safia Elhillo followed by several themed panel discussions. “Crossing Borders: Writing About Home from Away” will feature writers whose work has been about displacement, relocation and identity. “Parenthood: It Changes Everything” includes writers who explore the challenges and complexities of present-day parenthood and will be facilitated by former Press Herald features editor Chelsea Conaboy, whose book “Mother Brain: How Neuroscience is Rewriting the Story of Parenthood,” came out in September.

Maine author Lily King will speak during Maine Lit Fest. Photo by Winky Lewis

Following a poetry reading by Joshua Bennett at 2:30 p.m., there’ll be the panel discussion “Writing the Natural World” with environmental writers, followed by “Rich Kid, Poor Kid: Exploring Socioeconomic Diversity in Young People’s Literature.” Russo will lead a conversation with several authors who have recently or will soon release their first book at an event called “Exciting Debuts: New Authors to Watch.”

Also during the day on Oct. 8, there will be a book fair in Monument Square featuring books from several Maine publishers along with some authors on hand to sign copies. The full list of participating presses and authors is at mainewriters.org as part of the festival schedule of events.

Saturday’s events end with a “lit crawl” beginning at 6:30 p.m. in which participants will walk around downtown Portland making stops at various places for a drink and some lively banter, including some writers sharing what they consider their worst piece of writing ever, Fay-LeBlanc said. Some of the specific stops on the crawl include the Press Hotel’s Inkwell Bar, Longfellow Books, Mechanics Hall and the Equality Community Center. A link to the lit crawl’s full schedule of events is on the Maine Lit Fest page at mainewriters.org.

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story