As Joshua Bodwell clicks through slide after slide of photos of books that have inspired, challenged, and provoked him, it becomes evident that he is a reader passionate about the tactile experience of literature. His photos are thoughtfully planned out with a simple but telling backdrop: his wooden farmhouse table, which is splashed with bright blue/green paint. The table is worn. Its grooves and marks show age and activity. It appears to be well loved, like the pages of poems that Joshua’s father passed down to him when Joshua was a teenager.
Shelves alone cannot hold all of the stories he has collected. Books stack next to his closet, overflow onto his couch, creep next to his bedside. As Executive Director of the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance, our state is fortunate to have such a committed bibliophile supporting and promoting Maine’s writers, publishers, booksellers, and literary professionals.
Speaking in front of an audience that includes several Thornton Academy students, Joshua reminisces about his rebellious adolescent years during which he and a group of friends published an alternative zine called The Gambler at Kennebunk High School. With brooding stares and baggy pants, these defiant skateboarders took on their School Board and administration, publishing edgy content, even encouraging students to wear hats in school—a taboo at the time.
He was fueled by the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Charles Bukowski, and Raymond Carver, whose gritty, honest, and compelling stories featured characters down on their luck. Many of the book jacket photos depicted hardened faces filled with intrigue and depth. Once he discovered an author he connected with and trusted, Joshua voraciously consumed everything the author had written. “I would just get so interested in a writer that I wanted to read the whole canon,” he explains. He also wrote to publishers like John Martin of Black Sparrow Press and authors like Ray Bradbury. When he received responses, he says, “It was one of those things that connected me with the human behind the cover of the book.”
Learning the art of silkscreen and letterpress printing with the craft of bookbinding further advanced Joshua’s relationship with process of creating and sharing stories. Although Thornton Academy students spend lots of time scrolling on digital tablets and smartphones for reading assignments and social communication, after listening to Joshua’s presentation, one feels inclined to pick up book, touch the ink, smell the pages, admire the artwork, and find a comfortable spot for escaping into another world.
Joshua Bodwell is the executive director of the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. He is a regular contributor to Poets & Writers Magazine where his author profiles have included Ann Beattie, John Casey, Andre Dubus III, Richard Ford, and Richard Russo. He is a contributing editor at the online journal Fiction Writers Review. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in magazines and quarterlies such as Ambit (London), Glimmer Train’s Writer’s Ask, Threepenny Review, and Slice. His journalism has garnered awards from the Maine and New England press associations. He was awarded the 2015 Marianne Russo Award for emerging authors from the Key West Literary Seminar.
Thornton Academy’s Lloyd Hunt Lecture Series welcomed four writers for the 2016-2017 school year: David Arenstam, Bruce Coffin, Elizabeth De Wolfe, and Joshua Bodwell. You can watch an archived livestream of Joshua's talk on Thornton Academy's facebook page.
Left to right: Elizabeth De Wolfe, Bruce Coffin, and Joshua Bodwell.