BIDDEFORD – Joshua Bodwell views the beginning of his directorship of the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance the same way a president might after taking over the White House.

He has a 100-day plan, a one-year plan and myriad goals for the duration of his time in office.

“My pitch to the board was unabashed enthusiasm,” said Bodwell, 35, who shares an office in Portland with outgoing director Shonna Milliken Humphrey. “This organization has a great history. It’s 35 years old. But I think it’s important to ask ourselves, what are we now, and where are we going in the future?”

The goal of the alliance is straightforward and simple: To enrich the cultural life of Maine by supporting writers and the literary arts. The organization has been doing that in many ways for many years, most recently under the leadership of Humphrey. She is leaving the post of executive director on Aug. 20 to concentrate on her own writing career.

Bodwell began the job in July, enabling the pair to work together during the run-up to the most visible event the alliance will host this year. On Thursday, a group of best-selling and ever-popular Maine writers with come together for “Author! Author!” in Portland. It’s a fundraiser for the alliance featuring exclusive dinners, a library reception and a late-night social event at Space Gallery.

Among the writers who will attend are Richard Russo, Richard Ford, Ann Beattie, Lily King, Joyce Maynard, Betsy Sholl and Phil Hoose. Collectively, they’ve won two Pulitzer Prize awards, a National Book Award, topped national best-seller lists and served as poet laureate for the state.

It’s an elite group, and their star power says a lot about the state of literature in Maine these days. Bodwell wants to ensure MWPA handles its end of the bargain by supporting them, as well as the hundreds of other writers in Maine, in whatever way it can.

The group has about 1,000 members. In its heyday, it boasted close to 1,500 members. Right now, the budget is a little north of $100,000.

The central question that Bodwell must address is simple: What can and should the alliance offer to boost membership and serve what he hopes will be a growing constituency?

“We’re stable, but we have enormous growth potential,” he says.

Following Thursday’s event, Bodwell will get to work. His immediate, short-term goals include rebranding the organization with a new logo, a new identity and a new Web site. As Bodwell jokes, “1997 wants its Web site back.”

He intends to use the Web site as an interactive tool for members and potential members. He wants to blog regularly and create a forum for the community. He would love to see the group’s quarterly newsletter, Maine in Print, become more “journalesque,” and he talks in general terms about working more closely with the state’s visual-arts community on literary projects.

Mostly, he intends to listen to what members want and what they think needs to change to lure new members. Central to that question is what Bodwell calls “the missing R.”

As in, readers.

It’s called the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance, and the notion of serving readers is implied in the structure of the organization. But the idea of connecting writers with readers isn’t explicit, and Bodwell would like to make it so.

To him, that means finding a way to better serve and communicate with the state’s libraries and book retailers.

In many ways, Bodwell is the perfect person to lead the way. He is a writer himself. He has worked as a journalist, and enjoys writing short fiction and creative non-fiction. He may have a novel in him someday.

He’s also served his hometown library, the Graves Memorial Library in Kennebunkport. Bodwell grew up two blocks from the library, and spent more time there as a kid than just about anywhere else. He still does. He joined the library board when he was 29, and now serves as president of the library trustees.

Bodwell’s ascent to the directorship of the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance feels like the perfect opportunity at the right time, he said.

“To say that I’m thrilled about this would be a wild understatement,” he says. “The MWPA has a dedicated board of trustees and a loyal membership that I’m excited to work with. I intend to make the organization more vital and more visible.” 

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at: [email protected]


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