Maine’s literati turned out in full force Thursday night to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance at a series of parties across Portland. After the author dinners and before the swing dance, about 150 people filled the Rines Auditorium at the Portland Public Library for a dessert and champagne reception.

While guests sipped sparkling wine and nibbled on huge pieces of layer cake, the organization said goodbye to one leader and welcomed another.

Outgoing executive director Shonna Milliken Humphrey toasted Maine’s literary community in her parting remarks. She is off to pursue a full-time career as a novelist, with her first book “Show Me Good Land” due out from Down East Books in the spring.

She was followed at the podium by Joan Dempsey, chair of the organization’s board of trustees, who congratulated Humphrey on her service and praised incoming director Joshua Bodwell.

Dempsey recalled how her in-box was flooded with letters of recommendation for Bodwell and all used the word “exceptional,” or a variation, to describe him. She was skeptical about his ability to live up to the hype, but when she interviewed him she too was impressed.

In keeping with his reputation for going above and beyond, Bodwell didn’t quietly walk onto the stage. Instead he marched out behind a bagpiper, plopped his Scottish grandfather’s typewriter onto a chair and shed his seersucker jacket with a flourish.

In his remarks, he revealed his love of the semicolon, showed off his literary-themed tattoo and highlighted his plans to revamp the alliance’s website and newspaper and reinvigorate its role in the community.

“We’re a 35-year-old nonprofit on the cusp of not just an evolution, but if I have anything to do with it, a revolution,” Bodwell said.

Judging by the cheers and resounding applause, his speech won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

Like many at the party, former executive director Harriet Mosher told me she is “personally excited about the new director.”

Another thing partygoers expressed excitement for is the place we call home.

The author of thrillers set in Portland, James Hayman hosted a dinner at Five Fifty-Five before the party.

“Maine is a great state for the creative arts,” said Hayman, who does his writing on Peaks Island.

Author Joyce Maynard hosted a dinner at Hugo’s before the reception, where her friend and fellow writer Candace Pilk Karu said “the conversation was fabulous.” Maynard, who is known not only for her literary career but her relationship with J.D. Salinger in the early 1970s, grew up in New Hampshire and lives in California.

“I’m not really a Maine person,” Maynard told me, “but I love Portland.”

Author, freelance writer and columnist for The Bollard Elizabeth Peavey said Maine’s writing community is like a close-knit family, and called attention to all the hugging and laughter in the room filled “with scrappy poets and Pulitzer Prize winners.”

Those Pulitzer Prize winners at the party were Richard Russo and Richard Ford, who both hosted dinners before the party.

Mary Herman, who came to the party with her husband, former Gov. Angus King, attended the dinner hosted by Russo at Cinque Terre.

“The food was delicious,” Herman said. “They just kept bringing it out.”

Other notable authors spotted at the party included Anne Beattie, Jennifer Finney Boylan, Paul Doiron, Phillip Hoose, Ann Hood, Lily King and Betsy Sholl.

It’s possible the party’s friendly vibe was fueled by all the sugar and champagne, but Peavey said in her experience Maine’s writers are a welcoming and unpretentious bunch.

The spread of decadent desserts came from Silly’s, whose owner Colleen Kelley is good friends with Humphrey. Everyone could find something to love in this sweet buffet, which included chocolate cake, vegan chocolate cake and gluten-free brown rice krispy treats. All the bubbly came courtesy of Doug Watts at SoPo Wine Co., whose selection highlighted “traditional styles from non-traditional regions.”

Aspiring writer and MFA student Alisia Leavitt of Phippsburg enjoyed the sense of camaraderie at the party.

“Especially for young writers, this is really encouraging,” Leavitt said. “You can reach people through writing.”

Annaliese Jakimides, who writes the Bangor North column for the alliance’s Maine in Print, praised Maine’s literary community.

“It’s got an enormous amount of energy,” Jakimides told me.

And when I asked Peavey, whose sense of humor is legendary, why Maine seems to attract so many writers, she said, “We’re all so terribly desperate we have nothing else to do but write.”

At least until the next big Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance bash comes around.

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: [email protected]

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