"This incredible, magical community of ours" is how Stuart Gerson, co-owner of Longfellow Books, described Portland last night. He was onstage at SPACE Gallery with his co-owner, Chris Bowe, describing the wave of affection and support the bookstore has received since it was flooded out by an errant sprinkler system during the early-February blizzard.
Stuart and Chris are not normally onstage at SPACE, but last night was not a normal night. The Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance (MWPA) had arranged a special benefit performance, asking some of the state's leading writers to join in an evening called "FLOODED: An Outpouring of Literary Conversation in Support of Longfellow Books." [Introducing the evening, SPACE's Executive Director, Nat May, called it "the quickest selling-out-est event SPACE has ever had."]
The sell-out audience first heard from Josh Bodwell, who heads the MWPA. Josh typified Longfellow, and the role it plays here, accurately. "It's not just a bookstore, it's the big, bloody, beating heart of this city's literary community." Following Josh, Stuart and Chris took the stage, slouched in chairs, and found different ways to express what they've experienced over the past month. Chris: "This community has decided that we matter." Stuart: "A great bookstore cannot exist without a great community of readers and writers."
And then we heard from some of those writers. First, Brock Clarke interviewed Bill Roorbach and Ron Currie, Jr. Brocke's opening salvo: "God, there's a lot of sex in both of your new books." The conversation -- jokefest? bromance? -- went on from there. Following them came Moira Driscoll interviewing Monica Wood and Richard Russo, each of whom is a novelist-turned-memorist. Many penetrating observations about mill towns, the downfall of the Catholic mass, and Why You Can't (Or Can) Go Home Again.
It's less than a week since more than 1,500 writers, readers, and fans came out to hear Richard Blanco read poetry at Merrill Auditorium. And now we have (pun intended) a book-end to that event. An evening where readers, writers, bookstore owners and happy Portlanders came together to recognize that, out of disaster, sometimes there are positives. One more indication of what an incredible, magical community this is.