At Bowdoin, Doerr majored in history because it gave him the flexibility to take classes across a range of subjects. Bowdoin allowed him to explore his curiosities and what it means to be human. He sought out subjects of interest – in science, sociology, architecture, astronomy and nutrition – but never took a creative writing class. He did submit a poem as part of an application for a poetry workshop, but was rejected.
Still, writing was central to his time at Bowdoin. He wrote for the college newspaper and other publications, and his history major required a thesis. That was his first experience at long-form writing, and it led directly to his career as a novelist and essayist. Being a writer, he said, was never a consideration as a kid. It all happened at Bowdoin.
“Growing up where I did, being a novelist was something I could not do. I never met a novelist. I thought novelists were dead or living in Paris,” he said. “But at Bowdoin, I got to write a thesis. I learned how to hash out a book and what it was like to build a longer project. It was only 90 pages, but it was a way to start putting together a big piece of research and larger blocks of text. It felt empowering as a 20-year-old.”