Press Contact: Helen Dalrymple (202) 707-1940
October 23, 1998
Library of Congress Acquires Large Collection of Edna St. Vincent Millay Manuscripts
The Library of Congress has recently acquired an extensive collection of manuscripts of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) that will add more than 20,000 new items to its existing Millay materials housed in the Manuscript Division. The new materials will be available for research as soon as they have been processed and prepared for use.
"I have always admired Edna St. Vincent Millay," said James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress. "I spent some time as a youngster with my family on the coast of Maine not far from where she was well known as a legendary figure. I am very pleased that we have been able to expand the Library's Millay holdings through the acquisition of this significant collection of her manuscripts."
The Library will purchase the collection over a four- year period from the Edna St. Vincent Millay Society, in a private sale negotiated by Sotheby's, using a mix of public and private funds. In August, most of the materials were transferred to the Library from Sotheby's in New York where they had been stored for several years. In September, the literary executors and trustees added to the Library's collection the relevant papers remaining at Steepletop, Ms. Millay's home in Austerlitz, N.Y.
Edna St. Vincent Millay was well known to the American public during the first half of this century. By 1920, after the publication of Renascence and Other Poems, A Few Figs From Thistles, and a one-act play Aria da Capo, she became known as the voice of her generation - full of freshness and gaiety tempered by social rebellion. She gave theatrical readings of her poems, many of which were published in popular and literary magazines. She was one of the first poets to recite her poetry and fill a hall, according to her sister Norma Millay Ellis. In Greenwich Village, Millay was part of an artistic circle that included Edmund Wilson, Floyd Dell, Max Eastman, and Witter Bynner, among others. In 1923, she became the second person to receive the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.
Millay and her sisters were raised on the coast of Maine, where they overcame the limitations of their family's poverty by pursuing creative projects such as writing poems, songs and plays and listening to music. In 1912, Millay gained her first public recognition with the publication of her long poem, "Renascence." Soon after, she attracted the attention of Caroline B. Dow, head of the YWCA Training School in New York, who helped raise funds for her education at Vassar.
In 1923, Millay married Eugen Boissevain, a Dutch importer, and soon after they purchased Steepletop, where she lived for the rest of her life. In 1927, she joined in the protest against the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti and was arrested in Boston. In the mid-1930s, a nerve injury left Millay in constant pain and she sought relative seclusion with her husband at Steepletop. He died in 1949, followed by Millay in 1950. Millay's published work includes six plays,11 original volumes of poetry, and fiction under the name of Nancy Boyd.
After the poet's death, her sister Norma began giving Millay manuscripts to the Library of Congress. Those items - eventually totaling 625 - include poetry and play holographs, typescripts and galleys, and unpublished diary- notebooks. The original manuscript of "Renascence," as well as versions of many of her sonnets, are part of this collection. A number of the Millay diary-notebooks, including early drafts of poems and prose as well as other materials left in deposit status at the death of Norma Ellis, are covered by the 1998 acquisition contract.
Norma Millay Ellis lived at Steepletop after her sister's death. She was an actress who as a young woman played the lead in Millay's Aria da Capo and married its set designer, the painter Charles Ellis. When Norma died in 1986, she left the remaining Millay papers at Steepletop to the Edna St. Vincent Millay Society, whose board of trustees had long wished to add this major lot to those papers already in the Library of Congress.
The new materials include the remainder of the unpublished diaries and notebooks, other segments of the poetry manuscripts already in the Library, and original, unpublished correspondence from such friends and associates as Witter Bynner, Louis Untermeyer, Sara Teasdale, Georgia O'Keeffe, Edmund Wilson, John Peale Bishop, Deems Taylor, Edgar Lee Masters, Van Wyck Brooks, Maxwell Anderson, Upton Sinclair, Vita Sackville-West and Willa Cather. Also included are original materials of sociopolitical interest such as the manuscript of a Millay essay on Sacco and Vanzetti and her handwritten comments on a statement by the Committee for Cultural Freedom.
The additions are extremely rich in Millay family papers. They also include other Millay manuscripts and typescripts, such as drafts of her libretto The King's Henchmen, photographs, newspaper clippings and printed reviews, broadsides, original music, recordings and radio scripts, financial records, and first editions of her books.
When the entire collection is arranged, it will comprise the most extensive set of primary materials for research into Millay's life and work and her circle of friends and acquaintances, as well as valuable information about women's history, musical adaptation and related subjects dealing with American cultural history during the first half of the 20th century.
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