Millay House Group Launching Literary Society

Edna St. Vincent Millay’s birthday celebration February 25

by Andy O’Brien

Poets and literary enthusiasts will gather for an afternoon of poetry and cake to celebrate the 125th birthday of famed local poet Edna St. Vincent Millay at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland on Saturday, Feb. 25, at 1 p.m. The poetry gala —  sponsored by the Farnsworth Art Museum, the University of Maine Humanities Center, and Millay House Rockland — will feature readings by 14 poets, including Gary Lawless, Carl Little, Dave Morrison, Kristen Linquist and Maine Poet Laureate Stuart Kestenbaum, among others. The celebration comes with the launch of Millay House Rockland, a new organization dedicated to promoting poetry and literature in the region. 

“Our mission is to honor the legacy of Edna St. Vincent Millay and to further the cultural heritage in the midcoast and beyond,” said Millay House Rockland committee member Lisa Westkaemper.

The group hopes to begin operating out of the home where Millay was born, but it still needs to raise at least $200,000 to make it happen. The Rockland Historical Society formed the Millay House Committee in the fall of 2015 after philanthropist Roxanne Quimby purchased and donated the double house at 198-200 Broadway in Rockland to the Historical Society on the condition that it develop a plan to raise the matching funds needed to restore the building and establish a literary society in the house. The Historical Society is in the process of handing control to Millay House Rockland, a separate board formed from a subcomittee. The group has recently filed to become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Millay House Rockland has raised a combined $275,000 from the Davis Family Foundation, the Fisher Charitable Foundation, a challenge grant from Quimby and various individuals and local businesses. However, most of that money has been spent on restoring the outside of the house, replacing the heating system and electrical wiring, according to the group. 

“We hit the ground running with this project and we’ve been busy non-stop but I think we’ve covered a lot of ground in one year,” said Millay House Committee member Michele Gifford. “But we’ve only finished phase one. We’ve still got a another big phase to go.”

The Millay family were the first occupants of the house, which was built in 1891 by Wellington Singhi but moved to Union eight months later after the house was sold to Oscar Blackington, a successful clothing merchant. Edna St. Vincent Millay was born in the northside of the house on February 22, 1892. Over the years the house had become run-down and was on the market for a short sale when Quimby  purchased it. The group is hoping to raise enough money in the next year to renovate the inside of the house so that it resembles the way it looked when the Millays lived there. The Historical Society is currently applying to put the house on the National Registry. 

In the meantime, Millay House Rockland  is working on creating a cultural center and literary foundation that will sponsor writers’ workshops, symposiums, education programs and poetry readings. It hopes to establish a partnership with the Telling Room in Portland, which sponsors literary programs for students, and the University of Maine Humanities Center. Gifford said the group plans to also establish summer residence programs for writers to focus on their work and mentor students in the community. 

“The idea is to have an open space and let the community bring ideas,” Gifford added. “What’s really exciting is that the collaborative partners are really moving forward with the idea.”

The Millay House subcommittee is also planning the Millay Arts and Poetry Festival, a three-day event to be held at venues around Rockland in September, featuring music, theater, visual arts, poetry slams, panel discussions and workshops. 

“We’re sort of forging ahead in three directions at once,” said Rockland Historical Society President Brian Harden. “And I’m optimistic. They’ve accomplished amazing things so far.”

Bridget LeavittFree Press