Alice McDermott talks new novel ‘The Ninth Hour’ ahead of Baltimore Book Festival

The acclaimed local novelist Alice McDermott doesn’t remember the circumstances under which Sister Mary Rose came into her life when she was a little girl or how many times they met. But more than a half-century later, the author still vividly recalls the old nun’s face.

“My mother was raised by a widowed aunt who had five children of her own,” says the 67-year-old McDermott, who will read from her new book, “The Ninth Hour,” on Sunday at the Baltimore Book Festival.

“The aunt was a working woman in the early part of the 20th century who had a lot of kids and not a lot of money. If one of the kids got sick or if she got sick, Sister Mary Rose or one of the other nuns would come and take care of everyone.

“The sight of her came back to me as I was writing the novel, and I ended up dedicating the book to her.”

McDermott is among a record number of authors — more than 500 — who will be on hand for the 22nd annual Baltimore Book Festival, which runs this weekend in the Inner Harbor. There will be 11 stages, local food and beverage trucks, children’s programming, workshops, panel discussions and live music.

One of the festival’s great pleasures is the chance to reconnect with authors such as McDermott who are both nationally renowned (she won the 1998 National Book Award, and three of her eight novels have been finalists for the Pulitzer Prize) and deeply rooted to Maryland (she has taught at the Johns Hopkins University since 1996 and lives in Bethesda).

McDermott’s latest, “The Ninth Hour,” is set in Brooklyn, N.Y., during the early 20th century. The novel begins with the suicide of a young working man named Jim, and traces the ramifications of the ensuing secrecy on his wife, Annie, and unborn daughter, Sally. Shortly after giving birth, Annie, takes a job in the laundry of a nearby convent.

Sally grows to adulthood under the watchful eyes of three women: her mother; the crochety,…

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