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Q&A | Emily Burnham


Emily Stoddard Burnham is a lifelong writer, Waldo County native, and proud resident of Bangor, who since 2008 has served as an arts and culture journalist for the Bangor Daily News. Throughout her career, she has told stories about Maine in both the past and the present, highlighting everything and everyone from rock bands, chefs and artists to cultural idiosyncrasies and little-known moments in Maine history. She lives in a very old house in Bangor with her husband, Zach, and dog and cat.


We've asked Emily some questions about researching her book, her favorite things from the 70s, and her favorite photo from Downtown, Up River.


 

Was it difficult to search through the Bangor Daily News archives?


I already had been writing about local and Maine history for the BDN for a number of years before we began work on the book in 2022. The timing couldn't have been better, as less than a year prior we'd digitized our entire archive with newspapers.com, which makes it vastly easier to search than with microfilm! Then, during the process of researching and curating for the book, the Bangor Public Library moved our archive of negatives from off-site storage to the library. We now have full access to many decades of photos from the BDN. It's all really exciting.


What is your favorite photo that made it into the book?


There are so many that I love, but for me personally, I adore the image of the two young women working at the gas station on page one; I love the image of the family flying kites in the Capehart neighborhood; and I love the image of the people at the local campground on the Fourth of July, because it reminds me of growing up at my family's campground in Searsport. There's also a certain image taken at a music festival that I'm sure lots of readers have noticed and appreciated. That's a big favorite too.


Downtown, Up River is all about Bangor in the 1970s, what is your favorite book, song, and movie from the era?


This is such a difficult question! Movies, too many to choose from, but I'd say anything by Robert Altman, Mel Brooks, Stanley Kubrick or John Waters. Books, probably One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, or anything Hunter S. Thompson. And music, good grief, so many -- anything David Bowie, Patti Smith or classic funk and soul should cover it.


What do you hope readers take away from your book?


A renewed appreciation for this unique little city tucked away in the far upper corner of the country. And to reiterate that the past is the key to understanding the present.


What is one question you’d like to be asked, and what’s the answer?


What can we do to help historical societies, libraries, town halls, organizations and newspapers both current and former to preserve their archives? 


These sorts of groups and organizations often desperately need younger people to come on board and pitch in, whether it's through cataloging and digitizing, fundraising or simply providing a safe, climate-controlled place for things like paper archives, negatives, microfilm and other delicate media to be housed. Maine has an immensely rich history and, outside of its larger population areas and concentrations of wealth, there's a lot of amazing stuff out there in danger of being lost forever. If you love history, look up your local historical society or library and see how you can help!


 

Caught at a tipping point between the city it was and the city it could be, in the 1970s Bangor, Maine was undergoing rapid change, both physical and social. As the urban renewal program and the opening of the Bangor Mall began to decimate the city's downtown, Bangor's people— hard-working, plainspoken and good-humored—tried to bridge that gap between progressive and traditional, modern and historic, urban and rural. Through more than 140 images captured by photographers from the Bangor Daily News and elsewhere in the community, Downtown, Up River: Bangor in the 1970s paints a picture of a city caught in the middle.




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