Editor’s note: A version of this remembrance was first published in “The Peavey,” the weekly newsletter of the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance, where Bodwell is executive director.

Last week, Maine lost one of its fiercest literary lions.

Stuart Gersen arrived in Maine in the 1970s to homestead an old farm. Eventually he needed to make a little cash off the farm and, luckily for several generations of readers and writers, he fell into bookselling. When Stuart resettled in Portland, he quickly rose through the ranks at the old statewide chain, Bookland. In 2001, the chain filed for bankruptcy, but Stuart and fellow Bookland employee Chris Bowe partnered to open Longfellow Books.

The store has since become a paradigm of Portland’s buy local movement, its co-owners nationally revered for their devotion to bookselling.

In the length of a single visit to Longfellow Books, Stuart could swing from gruff and growling to gracious and generous. He did not suffer fools. He had an opinion. And he brimmed with bright-eyed literary passion. Stuart was a lanky, white-bearded bundle of uncontrollable honesty and we – the community of readers and writers he helped create and cultivate – wouldn’t have wanted him any other way.

It was Stuart Gersen who gave a young Stephen King his first Maine bookstore reading. Those who knew Stuart won’t struggle to imagine him leading a young, bespectacled Stephen King to a little table stacked with copies of “Carrie.” I can hear him now:

“Yes, yes, I read the book, Stephen. It’s quite good.

No, I don’t usually read horror books. I mean, most of them are garbage, right? But I liked yours. I like what you’ve done in there with Maine, how you’ve written about it. Good stuff. Honest stuff.

Wait, what? You didn’t bring your own pen to sign with?

Jesus, Stephen, sit here, just sit here, and I’ll go find a friggin’ pen.”

A cache of moving remembrances of Stuart poured into my inbox this week from Maine authors, and as I read them I thought time and again of one word: beloved. Stuart Gersen was beloved. Just as a conversation with Stuart led to literary digressions, the remembrances led me to think of a Raymond Carver poem that seems so fitting as Stuart’s community – his pack, his people – remember and celebrate him:

Late Fragment

And did you get what

you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself

beloved on the earth.

– Raymond Carver

In his predictably stubborn fashion, when Stuart was given his cancer diagnosis and told he had one year to live, he proved the doctors wrong and eked out two and a half. I have to believe that if it were beatable, he would have beaten it. Because if Stuart Gersen was one thing, he was fighter. He fought against ignorance and bullies. He fought for words and books and ideas and, perhaps most of all, for those he loved.

Below are brief remembrances from just a few of the many Maine authors whose lives Stuart Gersen touched.

CHRIS BOWE, Co-owner of Longfellow Books

Portland has lost part of its soul with the passing of Stuart Gersen. A book-man of the highest order, he believed in the power of books to transform and elevate people’s lives. As a member of this community he was critical in developing Portland’s buy local campaign. Stuart loved this city of readers and they loved him right back. He always had a bright smile while interacting with his people at the shop. I’m sure wherever Stuart is, it’s full of books, sunshine, and sailboats. Godspeed.


One of my proudest moments was when I got a phone call from Stuart shortly after my book was published. He told me that what I’d written was important, that it surprised him. This phone call, the genuine exuberance of the voice on the other end, fuels me even now.


Stuart was one of those rare people who never said anything he didn’t believe, one of those rare people who could be both sarcastic and sincere.


Stuart genuinely loved and believed in writers and the power of the word, and this belief has helped so many of us to do what we do.


At Stu’s funeral I was reminded, indirectly, of the ways in which he and I were similar when his son spoke about how one needn’t be Jewish to have a Jewish soul: to doubt, to question, to argue, to seek.


The enthusiasm in Stuart’s voice after he read my first novel meant the world to me, and I realized I was just the latest writer, in a long line of writers, this intelligent and generous man had made feel so valued.


I’ll never forget the look on Stu’s face the night he stood before a standing room only crowd at SPACE, thanking us for raising money for Longfellow after a flood nearly ruined the store. He was thanking a community he helped create.


I met Stuart at a dinner party in 1991, and he is the only guest I remember from that night. Perhaps it’s because he was the loudest and the giddiest and the most mischievous. But what stays with me most is his kindness, his warmth.


He left me with something that perhaps is the best sort of life-giving sustenance for lonely writers, or anyone for that matter. “I can’t wait to see what you do next.” That’s what he said. Like he meant it. But he did. He really did.


He’s taught us all what a bookstore can do when it situates itself firmly at the heart of community, and by extension, what we all can do.


My first experience of Stuart happened maybe 15 years ago. He’d just read me for the first time. When I walked into the store, he raised those ridiculously long arms of his, came toward me, and enfolded me in a bear hug. As a Portland writer, I’ve been living inside that hug ever since.

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