Patricia O’Donnell, author and professor of English at the University of Maine at Farmington, had her recent novel, “The Vigilance of Stars,” selected by the Maine Humanities Council for its 2020 statewide summer reading experience, “Read ME.” Submitted photo

FARMINGTON — An author and professor of English at the University of Maine at Farmington, Patricia O’Donnell, had her recent novel, “The Vigilance of Stars,” selected by the Maine Humanities Council for its 2020 statewide summer reading experience, “Read ME.”

The reading program featuring O’Donnell’s novel and “Roughhouse Friday” by Jaed Coffin began this week with copies of the books and programming available at participating Maine libraries. A special episode of “Maine Calling” on Maine Public Radio will take place on Friday, July 17, featuring this year’s authors. More information on the Read ME program and additional virtual events is available at https://mainehumanities.org/programs/read-me/.

O’Donnell is a professor of creative writing at the University of Maine at Farmington, where she teaches in the BFA Program in Creative Writing. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker and other journals and anthologies. In addition to “The Vigilance of Stars,” she is the author of a memoir, “Waiting to Begin”; another novel, “Necessary Places”; and an award-winning collection of short fiction, “Gods for Sale,” available from Snake Nation Press.

With a continuing emphasis on social distancing during the current COVID-19 pandemic, private reading has become an increasingly popular activity. O’Donnell shares her thoughts on her new novel, the Read ME program and the value to readers during this time.

What can you tell us about “The Vigilance of the Stars” and why you wrote it?

My first novel, “Necessary Places,” was set primarily in a small Iowa town, like the town I grew up in. I wanted my second novel to be immersed in Maine, where I’ve lived for 33 years. This novel is set partly in Portland, but mostly on the shores of Parker Pond in Chesterville, where we have a camp. The night sky is fantastic there.

How did you feel when selected for the Maine Humanities Council summer program?

I was happy that the book would have a wider audience and, in particular, thrilled and grateful to have it chosen by Lily King. I’ve admired her fiction for years.

According to a recent news article, reading is the perfect social distancing activity. As an author, how do you feel about that statement?

I agree. Reading, and writing, and baking sweet things. And watching animal videos on Twitter.

Seriously, it can be hard to focus on reading or writing when one is anxious about the state of the world, as we all are now. But there is nothing better than finding a good book and giving yourself permission to flop into that chair and let the book take you away.

What do you think reading accomplishes during challenging times like the current pandemic?

Reading keeps us in touch with a larger world. It’s too easy, staying at home, to obsess on what we see as problems. Reading the news is great, but it can convince us that things are terrible and make us feel hopeless. Reading good literature can take us out of ourselves, can remind us that life can have purpose and joy and redemption.

What do you hope readers take away from your novel and the Read ME program?

This program is intended to give people the opportunity to read books by Maine writers, gather in groups to discuss them, and meet the authors through library visits. Though we can’t meet in person this summer, the Maine Humanities Council is arranging, in addition to the Maine Calling appearance, virtual author presentations and book discussions which will be open to anyone. I hope to have good conversations about books and writing.

According to its website, the Maine Humanities Council is a statewide nonprofit organization that uses the humanities — literature, history, philosophy and culture — as a tool for positive change in Maine communities.


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