BIDDEFORD — Andre Dubus III has learned to embrace New England.

It was no small task. He spent his early life distancing himself from it as much as he could. He had a difficult upbringing in Massachusetts, and resented anyone with a New England accent.

But he is 54 now, and has learned to let go. He lives near Newburyport, Mass., is happily married and gainfully employed at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, where he hopes to inspire students to tap their creativity and express themselves with words.

At 7 p.m. Friday, the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance, the arts group Engine and the McArthur Public Library will host a reading and talk by the best-selling author in Biddeford.

His novel “House of Sand and Fog” was both a National Book Award finalist and an Oprah Book Club selection. His last book, “Townie,” was a memoir that explored his early years, as well as his reconciliation with his father, the writer Andre Dubus.

He has a new collection of stories, titled “Dirty Love,” scheduled for release Oct. 7. His publisher has arranged to sell 100 copies of the book at the Biddeford event, meaning that Maine will host the book’s premiere.

“Dirty Love” brings together four stories under one title, all dealing with various aspects of human relationships. They’re certainly not pretty, or very redeeming. But the book is winning a lot of early praise for its grit and honesty.

Scheduled at Engine during Biddeford’s Art Walk, the free Friday night event also will include literary agent, poet and publisher Lucas Hunt, who will lead a Q&A session. Dubus will read from “Dirty Love” and discuss his work.

At 1:30 p.m. Saturday, the MWPA will host ASIDE Vol. 2: A Citizen’s Forum on Literary Particulars, featuring Hunt, at Engine. The afternoon talk’s theme will be “The Lucas Hunt Trifecta: The Literary Life of a Poet, Agent and Small Press Publisher.” That event is free for MWPA members, and for nonmembers a $5 donation is suggested.

We spoke with Dubus by phone from his home in Massachusetts. 

Q: Tell me about “Dirty Love.” What were you aiming for when you embarked on this project?

A: I never aim for anything. Well, that’s not true. I aim simply to get deep into a character in a certain situation and let the themes reveal themselves on their own. I was aiming to write a collection of novellas, and they came together organically and on their own.

The first one, I published in 1999. It’s called “The Bartender.” The second was one called “Marla,” and both are the phoenixes that rose from the failed ashes of the same novel that never came together. The only things that stayed were these two characters and their stories.

As it happens, I have seen lots of marriages that are crumbling and falling to the ground, sadly. I’ve been married almost 25 years, and knock on wood, we seem to be doing OK.

But writers write from fears and demons and their own curiosities. 

Q: What does it mean to you to be a New Englander? You have lived in a few places, but you’ve chosen to come home. Why?

A: Because I was raised by a single mother and with a lot of heartache growing up, I had a really negative association with all of New England when I hit my early 20s. All of it. I wrote the whole region off.

I lived all over the country, and thank God I had a girlfriend who wanted to come back to this area.

I got a trailer on a beach off Newburyport, working as a bartender and writing by day. I met my wife then, and began to heal the wound.

I realized, having traveled the country and gone to college in Texas and even though my blood relatives are from Louisiana and I was born in California, I am a blood New Englander. This is where I am most at home and feel myself. 

Q: Tell me about the event with Lucas Hunt in Biddeford. You are doing a reading, and also a Q&A?

A: It’s my favorite kind of thing. I do like reading my work, although I find my favorite part of getting up in front of people is the conversation you have afterwards. I’ve done a few of these deals where you just get up and have a conversation.

I expect a good conversation. 

Q: What do you tell your students about the art of writing? What is lesson No. 1 in your book when it comes to writing?

A: I tell some stories about writing, and I begin with a notion that it’s a creative strength to not know what the hell you are doing. I quote the writer Richard Bausch: “Do not think; dream.”

The opening salvo is there is a difference between making something up on one hand and imagining it on the other.

If nothing else, I tell them that writing is a humble act, an act of humility. You’re entering into a larger territory than you are. That’s your imagination. Imaginations are larger than your specific lives.

There are multitudes inside of us. I try to set a tone that is about humility and bravery and the courage to take risks.

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

[email protected]

Twitter: pphbkeyes


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.