Bridgton official considers Stephen King festival

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BRIDGTON — The town hopes to become a national or even international destination by celebrating the literary genius of former resident Stephen King.

“I’m calling it a literary heritage festival,” said Alan Manoian, director of economic and community development, of the proposed Bridgton Celebrates Stephen King Festival. He will begin to develop the concept with his department and the Bridgton Community Development Committee and others at a kickoff meeting from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on June 1 in the Bridgton town office.

“Like most other young men who grew up in late 1970s and ’80s, I remember ‘Carrie’ in 1978 as a sophomore. But I personally was never a Stephen King fanatic,” recalled Manoian who arrived in Bridgton in 2008 and immediately realized he was surrounded by literary postmarks of Stephen King.

“Remember ‘The Mist?’” It took place in Food City,” said Manoian, who looked at that and other places around town that were used by King in his books. “I thought this is kind of cool.”

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Manoian immediately went to the local video store and online and rented every Stephen King movie and read every Stephen King book he cold get his hands on. “I realized so many of his works like ‘Cugo,’ ‘Pet Cemetery’ seemed to be based in the state of Maine. The culture of Maine was obviously woven into his works. The final catalyst was when he released the book “Under the Dome,” he said.

An idea was born.

Manoian said he grew up in the working-class city of Lowell, Mass., where each fall city officials celebrate the works and life of its native Jack Kerouac, a French-Canadian child who grew up to become a great American novelist and poet who often cited areas of Lowell in his works.

“Many years ago in the 1970s and 1980s, people were coming to Lowell from all over the nation and world to see where he wrote about,” Manoian said of the annual celebration that is still going strong in Lowell years later.

“You have an extraordinary point of distinction with King’s accomplishments, his art and literature. It’s international. It goes way beyond Jack Kerouac’s popularity,” he said.

“Wouldn’t this be an extraordinary thing to offer the people of Maine, New England the nation and the world?” he asked.

Although planning is in its infant stages, Manoian said he envisions a “compelling and fun literary festival” celebrating works of Stephen King.

“In Bridgton you can immerse yourself intellectually into his works, visually, and physically in the actual places where he drew inspiration from. I see an extraordinary celebration,” Manoian said.

There are many idea already, such as local theater groups re-enacting King scenes or the local high school English department challenging students to compose stories in the King genre.

A Stephen King film festival in the Magic Lantern Theater downtown where King came last year to sign autographs for his new book “Under the Done” could be offered, Manoian said. Also, there could be guided tours to places and people that King references in his book such as the grocery store (Food City) where people hide in King’s “The Mist.”

“You can imagine people coming from Louisiana or Sweden saying, ‘My God, I’m going take my picture in front of Food City,’” Manoian said.

“If we can really compose a very thoughtful meaningful celebration, it could become one of the most popular events throughout New England,” he said.

Of course little will be possible without the consent and willingness of Stephen King to agree to such an undertaking in his name.

“It is a significant issue. It is our intent to of course make contact with Mr. King’s agent and to forward to them the concept and afford them the full measure of consideration with what Mr. King will be comfortable,” Manoian said. “If we can demonstrate the thoughtfulness of this serious academic approach we want to make, I believe he will comfortable with it.”

Manoian said he would like to hear from anyone interested in ideas to develop the celebration. The June 1 kickoff meeting is open to everyone.

For more information, Manoian may be reached at 647-8786 or by email at ecodevdir@bridgtonmaine.org.

ldixon@sunjournal.com

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