Doris Grumbach spent nearly two decades living on the coast of Maine, writing some of her most noted works from an old house overlooking Eggemoggin Reach.

But the author, who captured snapshots of her life in the tiny village of Sargentville in her memoirs “Fifty Days of Silence” and “Life in a Day,” didn’t consider herself a Maine writer.

Doris Grumbach at her home in Sargentville in 1994. Jack Milton/Press Herald archives

“For one thing, I’ve never written about the state except one tiny corner of it, the cove and my house, and small events like trips to the post office and the store, a sixth of a mile away,” she told the Portland Press Herald in 2000. “The secluded three acres and the ever-changing moods and seasons of the cove have provided me with the necessary climate for interior travel. … I have brought my subject matter with me from a life lived in other places.”

Grumbach, who wrote about love, sex, religion and aging and explored LGBTQ themes in her novels, died Nov. 4 at her home in a retirement community in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. She was 104.

If circumstances had been different – and Maine winters less harsh – Grumbach would have chosen to live out her life in her shingled home overlooking the sea in Sargentville, a village in Sedgwick, said her daughter Barbara Wheeler.

“Of all the places she lived, it was the one she found most deeply satisfying,” Wheeler said.


Grumbach survived the 1918 influenza pandemic as an infant and grew up in Manhattan, where her father sold men’s clothing and her mother was a homemaker. After graduating from New York University in 1939 and earning her master’s degree at Cornell University in 1940, she married Leonard Grumbach and had four daughters. The couple divorced in 1972, according to The Washington Post.

During World War II, she joined the Naval Women’s Reserve. After the war, she settled in Albany and began teaching at a private girls’ school. In the 1960s, she taught English at The College of Saint Rose and began writing novels. Later in her career, she was a literary editor, wrote reviews and essays, and taught at American University, according to the Post.

Grumbach moved to Maine from Washington, D.C., in 1990 with her partner Sybil Pike, who ran Wayward Books, the rare-book store they co-owned. They reopened the bookstore behind their house in Sargentville, just beneath the Deer Isle bridge. She loved the view from her living room and watching wildlife come and go.

By then in her 70s, Grumbach spent much of her time in Maine writing her six memoirs, including “Fifty Days of Solitude,” which explores what it means to write, to be alone and to come to terms with mortality.

“Maine prompted a depth of reflection that wasn’t possible when she was teaching and writing criticism and novels in Albany and Washington,” Wheeler said.

In the winter of 1993, Grumbach decided to stay home while Pike went on an extended book-buying trip. She unplugged her phone and didn’t speak to anyone for 50 days. She rose early each day to write, then spent her evenings reading and listening to music. She would slip into church after the service began and leave as the last hymn was sung.


She did not initially intend to publish her writing from this time. When she heard a Boston publisher was looking for books from authors that were different from their previous writing, she told her editor she had some notes on solitude. She wasn’t sure it was a book, but the editors knew immediately that “50 days of Solitude” was not only a book, but a good one.

Grumbach believed that for authors to succeed, they need to face a blank page alone and a little scared, she told the Press Herald in 1994.

“There was a reward for this deprivation,” she said. “The absence of other voices compelled me to listen more intently to the inner one.”

Those days of solitude aside, Grumbach surrounded herself with a wide and diverse group of friends, said Allan Sandlin, who first met Grumbach when he became vicar of St. Francis by the Sea Episcopal Church in Blue Hill. He and his wife had listened for years to Grumbach’s reviews on NPR and knew her voice, but were surprised to find she was a member of the church.

“She loved Maine and very much took pleasure in all of the characters, from the local lobster fishermen to other retired authors and musicians,” he said. “She didn’t have a whole lot of time or interest in the wealthy summer people of Maine, but was much more interested in the folks who lived in the community year-round.”

Grumbach was a deeply thoughtful and probing thinker with a critical eye and mind, Sandlin said. She was deeply devoted to her family and the Yankees and loved string quartets.

Grumbach and Pike retired in 2008 to Pennsylvania, where they hung photos taken from their Sargentville home to maintain their view of Down East Maine. They were sad to leave Maine, but it was the safest option as they aged, Wheeler said. Pike, Grumbach’s partner of more than four decades, died in 2021.

Sandlin visited Grumbach every year in Kennett Square and she would always ask about Maine and the people she remembered, he said. Their last visit was in September.

“She longed for Maine until the day she died,” Sandlin said. “Every time I saw her, it was very clear that her heart was still very much there. Of all the places she lived and people she encountered in her long, fascinating life, it was that community in Maine that was closest to her heart.”

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