A Candle Burning
In the new Amazon Video network series “Z: The Beginning of Everything,” we’re given an intimate look into the life of Zelda Fitzgerald, she of F. Scott and wild party days. While many accounts of the Fitzgeralds’s life focus on Scott’s success, Zelda takes center stage here. What results is a story that’s sometimes glitzy, sometimes gritty, and increasingly burdened by bacchanalian excess.
Around the periphery of the Fitzgeralds’ sphere, we’re introduced to a cast of contemporaries. There’s Tallulah Bankhead, and… hey, look, there’s Edna St. Vincent Millay!
An icon of Maine’s arts scene, the poet and playwright was born in Rockland in 1892 before making her way to New York for a time. Following the turn of the century, she gained widespread fame for her work and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1923.
Just last year, the Rockland Historical Society was able to purchase Millay’s birthplace with a gift from Maine philanthropist Roxanne Quimby. Following additional fundraising efforts, grants and donations, restoration work was completed to stabilize the building.
But there’s more to be done, said Ann Morris, the Rockland Historical Society’s curator. The Millay House Committee plans to create a historically-accurate rental unit on the south side and a similar unit on the north side for headquarters of a new literary organization, the Millay House Rockland. More than $200,000 is needed to complete the restoration of the two interiors.
“We have planned a big three-day poetry festival the first weekend in September,” said Morris of planned fundraising efforts. “We had a birthday celebration in February for [Millay’s] 125th birthday. We’ll be doing lots of grant writing where we talk to individuals…we’ll be contacting individual donors and encouraging donations, and I would imagine that the literary group will probably come up with an idea for something this summer.”
Plans for the house include a multi-use literary space in which Portland’s The Telling Room and the UMaine Humanities Center have already expressed interest, said Morris. Millay House Rockland, itself planned to be a tenant, expects to offer writing workshops, poetry workshops, field trips, publishing help and an annual poetry festival.
Morris said the effort is important not only to preserve Millay’s legacy, but that of Rockland’s as a whole.
“Rockland has such an interesting history because it has had such a vibrant economy that has depended on a strong, blue-collar workforce,” she said. “There were lots of farmers and…out of that working class population has come some incredible, outstanding people like [Millay], Louise Nevelson the sculptor, and Alton Hall Blackington [a popular early-20th-century media personality].”
While Millay’s name is often spoken with reverence here in Maine, there’s no doubt that she shared many of the peccadilloes of Fitzgerald’s bohemian arts scene. Openly bisexual, she smoke, drank, partied, and practiced “free love” both as a single woman and with her husband of 26 years. In her 1950 obituary, she was referred to as “a frivolous young woman, with a brand-new pair of dancing slippers and a mouth like a valentine.”
“She was kind of a wild spirit,” said Morris, “and there are things in her life that a mother probably would not want their daughter to do. You have to separate the human person from the creative gift. It’s as if the greatest artists like Mozart and Beethoven and [Millay] have something in their personality that is not admirable but they are like a vessel that all these wonderful creative ideas come through.”