The University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast writing program is known for bringing some of the most talented authors in the country to Maine for intense residencies aimed at ambitious graduate students.

But you don’t have to be enrolled to rub shoulders with the likes of Rick Bass, Martin Espada and Maine’s own Sarah Braunstein. The Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing begins Friday in Freeport, and over the course of 10 days the public has several chances to listen to free readings by faculty, students and guests.

Many Mainers are aware of Stonecoast’s reputation as a leading low-residency creative writing program, said writer and faculty member David Anthony Durham, who lives in western Massachusetts. But most don’t realize they can participate.

“We want to make sure people know they are welcome,” Durham said. “We have a big room and plenty of space for anyone to stroll right in and take a seat. We always get some people, but we would love to have more. It’s really kind of rare. It’s quite an influx of writers with national and international reputations. These are folks who travel around the country and do readings – around the world, really.”

The winter residency begins Friday at the Stone House mansion and Harraseeket Inn in Freeport. The students will spend time with their teachers, attending workshops and consulting with their faculty mentors in their pursuit of a master’s degree. After the residency, they return to their homes across the country for six months of writing and instruction, delivered electronically, then come back to Maine for another intensive in the summer.

Stonecoast offers a two-year graduate education in creative writing, including creative nonfiction, fiction, poetry and popular fiction, with elective work in scriptwriting, translation and other areas. The magazine Poets & Writers named the program one of the best low-residency creative writing programs in the country.

During the residency, writers will give many public readings. Some are flash readings, lasting just a few minutes. Others are longer and more involved.

Among the featured writers is Espada, a Latino poet, noted Durham. “Martin is known internationally. It’s a great opportunity to hear him read in Maine,” he said.

Dolen Perkins-Valdez, a Washington, D.C.-based writer and Stonecoast faculty member, appreciates the casual nature of the readings. At bookstore readings, writers are expected to promote their latest book. These readings are purely for the love of the art, she said.

“One of the things you get with the readings at Stonecoast is a warm sense of community. It’s very welcoming to the writers who read. They often try new material, and there is a sense of the unexpected. It’s very nice,” she said.

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:

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Twitter: @pphbkeyes