A Writer’s Muse
Roxana Robinson finds her inspiration on Mount Desert Island
Award-winning author Roxana Robinson refers to Maine as her paradise. Beginning in the late-1970s, Robinson and her husband rented a home in Northeast Harbor. Their coastal retreat quickly became a place to which Robinson and her dog would escape to in the winter months. It also became the muse for her first novel, Summer Light. “The light is one of the things that strikes me when I come to Maine,” she says. “That raking brilliant light I find so exciting and so exhilarating to see how it spans across the landscape and over the old bright clapboard houses, the rocks on the shore, and the birds. The light in Maine has a very powerful effect on me.”
The author of six novels, three collections of short stories, and a biography of painter Georgia O’Keeffe, Robinson was dubbed “John Cheever’s heir apparent” by the New York Times Book Review for her astute, unflinching approach to the tragedies large and small that impact families. She often travels from her home on Manhattan’s Upper East Side to Northeast Harbor and immerses herself in her writing. “Sometimes I am there alone, and it is the most perfect time to work,” Robinson says while describing cold, snowy nights when she sits alone by a fire, looks out to the ocean, and writes.
Her fourth novel, Cost, published in 2008, was recognized on several lists of the year’s best books, including The Washington Post’s, which named it one of the Five Best Fiction Books of the Year. Focused on addiction and its effect on a family, the book also received the 2008 Fiction Award from the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. In the story, Robinson’s protagonist lives in a small farmhouse on the coast of Maine, a setting she could easily imagine while writing in Northeast Harbor. When she was finishing the book, she moved into a loft on the top floor of her home to seal herself off from the rest of the world. “There was no view at all, and it had these tiny windows like being in a cave,” Robinson says. “At the end of the book, I became more and more engaged in that world. It took me over and became the real world for me, so, I lived in the loft and didn’t come out until I finished.”
Robinson has also set several short stories in Maine. When she is on Mount Desert Island, she contributes to the island newspaper with articles about coastal birds and her flower garden. This past summer, Robinson traveled around the state for book signings and readings of her latest novel, Dawson’s Fall, which is based on the lives of her great-grandparents and set in Charleston, South Carolina, after the Civil War. While the work is fiction, Robinson believes drawing on her own experiences and, in the case of Dawson’s Fall, those of her family, is the only way to write. “That’s all I have,” she says. “And everything about Maine is part of my experience.”