What does it mean to live in Maine? Emily Powers ’14 is exploring the question in a very personal way this summer as she crafts a collection of short stories about Lewiston-Auburn, Maine, where she grew up.
Powers’ “Short Stories From My Hometown” consists of fictional works rooted in real-life local culture. For example, one of her stories centers around recent fires that displaced many of the Somali refugees who have increasingly sought asylum in Lewiston-Auburn. She also plans to write about the long-standing Franco-American community that first settled in Lewiston-Auburn to work in textile mills in the late 1800s.
The close coexistence of diverse groups in the area has pushed Powers to think about “what constitutes being a Mainer,” she said, versus someone “from away.” Another focal point of her project is representing a sense of place through writing. In her story of a family trapped in an ice storm, for example, she builds a narrative around Maine’s cold winter landscape.
Moving beyond written resources and her own experiences as a Mainer, Powers has been carrying out original research, interviewing community members to hear their personal perspectives on living in Maine. When asking people to delve into their pasts, she is careful to balance her quest for information with sensitivity. When interviewing officials, on the other hand, she has learned the importance of pushing past standard responses focused on numbers and logistics.
Working with Professor of English Brock Clarke, Powers is funded by a Surdna Foundation Undergraduate Research Fellowship. Though the stories she is writing are fictional, she feels that the distinction is blurred between fiction and one’s own experiences.
“Even if you’re writing stories about families that have no relation to your own, you’re still writing about characters who are bits and pieces of people you know, about places you can describe and things that you find interesting or meaningful,” She says. “All of that has to do with your personal life and your perspective. My writing is an intertwined mesh of me and outside sources.”