Meredith Hall's first attempt at college did not turn out as she planned. In the mid-'60s, she dropped out of Bennington College in Vermont after one semester. The second time around was much more successful, though less traditional: Hall, a mother of three, graduated from Bowdoin in 1993 at age 44.

Hall's memoir, "Without a Map," will be released on April 15 and tells this exceptional, unconventional story. The book received a starred Kirkus Review and was named as a Reader's Pick of 2007 by Elle Magazine.

The story begins when Hall, at 16, became pregnant and was expelled from school. When her mother kicked her out of the house, Hall went to live with her father and gave the baby up for adoption.

After finishing high school and wandering around Europe and the Middle East, Hall finally settled in Maine, got married, and had two more children with her husband at the time. Her firstborn son then established contact with her and became part of the family when he was 21.

"It's a story of multiple losses?my childhood, the baby, my mother, and father," Hall said in a phone interview with the Orient. "When my child at 21 became a member of the family, it started a great healing process. I moved away from griefs and sorrows and moved towards wisdom."

"Everyone has stories of loss and pain," Hall continued. "People reading the book respond to people speaking stories of loss. It hits a vein?they're common stories."

Hall decided to enroll at Bowdoin after she and her husband divorced and she realized she needed a job to support herself and her children. She sent a letter to the admissions office, which Hall described as "impassioned. I was hungry to learn." She then met with Sam Robinson, who worked in admissions at the time, and was admitted as a member of the Class of 1993.

"I'm profoundly grateful to Bowdoin," Hall said. "They were absolutely wonderful and helped with all my tuition."

Hall was a nontraditional student in more aspects than her age. When most students stayed up until 3 a.m. to finish their papers, Hall woke up at that time to do schoolwork before her children awoke.

"My kids teased me and called me 'the invisible student,'" Hall said. "In the classroom, it was tricky territory to negotiate. I had a lot more life experience and I was a hungry student."

"I was definitely the oddball, the old lady mascot," she continued. "But the students and professors were absolutely magnificent."

Though Hall lived in East Boothbay and commuted to Bowdoin during her four years, many of her favorite memories reflect residential aspects of the College.

"I loved eating at Moulton and eavesdropping on students' conversations," she said. "I was astonished that they talked about what they were learning. It was incredibly moving."

After graduating with a degree in anthropology and English and a minor in education, Hall enrolled in the University of New Hampshire's master's program and now works as the assistant director of the university's writing program.

Hall decided to write her memoir when, at age 54, she realized that while she was teaching writing, she had not done much writing of her own since getting her master's.

Hall took a workshop to brush up her skills and submitted sections of what later became "Without a Map" to a literary journal. These stories won her the Pushcart Prize, awarded to outstanding literature from small magazine and book presses.

After receiving a $50,000 writing grant from the A Room of Her Own Foundation, a foundation for female writers and artists, Hall moved to San Francisco and spent the next year and a half writing her memoir.

"Without a Map" includes a chapter about Hall's experience at Bowdoin, racing across campus on her first day, late for class, because she had to send her own children to school. Hall recalled that the professors and students at Bowdoin made the biggest impression on her.

"What I watched was not just top-notch students, but also students that had their brains on fire," Hall said.

"It was a joyful thing to be around them," she added.

Hall will read from "Without a Map" at Longfellow Books in Portland on April 19 at 7 p.m., and again at Books Etc. in Falmouth on May 2 at 7 p.m.