Sarah Braunstein, 34
Novelist, essayist, instructor
When Sarah Braunstein and her husband moved to Maine four years ago, her unpublished novel was just a series of patchwork scenes that she was struggling to make sense of. But moving to Maine – and becoming pregnant with her now 4-year-old son -– inspired Braunstein to find the thread she needed to make her novel a coherent whole. As a result, the 34-year-old writer feels a real connection to Maine and hopes to raise her family here.
“I got inspired when I came to Maine,” says Braunstein, whose debut novel has garnered attention nationally. “As a writer you can live anywhere, but I feel more connected to Maine than anywhere I’ve lived.”
Braunstein is the author of “The Sweet Relief of Missing Children,” a mysterious work of literary fiction that explores the psychological experiences of a darkly drawn cast of a dozen or so main characters. The novel will be out in paperback in February, which coincides with her book’s selection as the featured book of the Maine Women Write Book Club, launched in September to promote the work of women writers in Maine.
Braunstein is excited about the book club, which will feature the work of seven Maine women whose books were published in 2011 and are receiving notice nationally. Braunstein’s star shines as brightly as any of the seven. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, she won a $25,000 prize to pursue her first novel and she was named one of “5 under 35” fiction writers by the National Book Foundation in 2010.
“It was wonderful to feel like we had this community of women writers who all happened to live in Portland,” says Braunstein. “The hope is to get the public excited about it.”
Braunstein was already finding ways to connect herself to Maine writers before the book club formed. She has written feature stories and essays about artists for Maine, a monthly magazine, and she is on the faculty of the Stonecoast master’s of fine arts program at the University of Southern Maine. Braunstein also has participated the last two summers in The Portland Hive, a summer camp for high school students sponsored by The Telling Room in Portland. There, she leads creative exercises in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction for the group of 25 students and marveled at their seriousness and sophistication.
“They know a lot more about writing than I did at their age,” says Braunstein, who grew up outside Hartford, Conn. “They are driven to look critically at their work in a serious, open-hearted way.”
Despite the rigors of young motherhood – or perhaps because of the discipline it has inspired – Braunstein is working on a second novel. And yes, it is set in Maine.
“This is the longest I’ve ever stayed in one place since I left home,” she says. “In Maine, there is such attention to place, something really charged about it. It feels like home.”
– Joanne Lannin