As I near my one year anniversary here at the Maine Women Writers Collection, I can’t quite believe that almost twelve months have passed. We are doing so many things that it is sometimes hard to articulate “the work.” Administering the daily operations of a collection is so different than I imagined it to be. I am constantly amazed that I can keep all these balls in the air.
Looking back on the past few months, I find that I have become more of a part of the university. I am now serving on UNE’s Women’s and Gender Studies and LGBTQ advisory committees, as well as on the Maine Women’s Studies Consortium. I am learning who to call with what question, what office does what piece of the large puzzle that keeps the university functioning, and which colleagues are there for you no matter what. All in all, I’m entirely pleased with my choice to come here. I couldn’t ask for better colleagues or a more beautiful place to work.
But back to the question of defining “the work”–for me this is the slippery part of this job. As a writer, I’m naturally interested in other writers’ publications and readings. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to buy books for our collection, and to actually read some of them. I get to some readings, but others I realize I must forego so that I can get some collection processing done or some emails answered.
Recently, we have been getting a fair number of donations, which has been quite exciting. I had the opportunity to meet and talk with Harriet H. Price when she donated manuscripts and publication proofs for her book Blackberry Season. After our conversation, I realized just how lucky I am to be let inside of people’s intimate stories of creation. I am in such a privileged position to get to talk with writers about their passions and fears, their concerns and joys. I build relationships so that writers feel that their work is coming to a safe home at the Collection.
I have the opportunity to work with researchers, editors and publishers on a regular basis, and find great pleasure in being able to help someone find that thing they need to flesh out their story. Over the past two weeks, we had a wonderful researcher visiting us from Germany, and over that time, we built a relationship. While I won’t be able to read her book (sadly, German is not in my linguistic toolkit), I can make it available for others to study. This work with researchers allows me to dig into collections that I often don’t have an excuse to give more than a cursory look.
Over the past few months, the Josephine Diebitsch Peary papers has been our most popular collection. Not only did we just receive Josephine’s gun back from the Peary Museum, we lent some of her silver accessories to the Saco Museum for their exhibit “Voyages and the Great Age of Sail.” Several researchers also worked with her collection. I enjoyed the chance to look at all of the material culture treasures we have to document her life, both in North America and Greenland.
Creating exhibits allows for the same kind of deep looking that I so rarely get to do. Our most recent exhibit on mother and daughter pairs and sisters in the collection was a wonderful opportunity for me to explore ten collections I had little familiarity with before choosing items for the case.
I encourage you all to come in and peruse the letters of Kate Barnes, the diaries and letters of Elizabeth Coatsworth, the rich scrapbooks and diaries of Marie Peary Stafford, and the witty writings of A. Carman Clark (among the other gems in the exhibit).
We had many visitors and classes in the collection this semester. Dr. Cathrine Frank brought her research methods class to the collection. We hosted a class from SMCC. I took materials from the Perdita Huston papers to Dr. Helida Oyieke’s class on women and the environment. Last week, I enjoyed another great visit from the Coastal Studies for Girls.
This Spring has even afforded me the opportunity to go outside of the collection. On April 29, I presented a workshop for the Maine Art Educators Spring Conference at USM on using poetry in the art education classroom. It was really fun to meet educators in K-12 classrooms and to get to hear about the amazing things that people are doing all around the state. I learned about the Wabanaki curve design, practiced drawing symbols from beadwork, and reveled in using my hands instead of my head. I even got to make some books.
More good things are to come! Next week, we’ll be hosting two poetry readings–one to celebrate accomplishments of Lulu Hawkes, who competed in the national “Poetry Out Loud” competition; the other reading will be “A Celebration of Writers” who participate(d) in the Gathering of Writers and Craft and Critique workshops at the Collection. We will be participating in the Harriet Beecher Stowe at 200 conference in late June. The Fall 2011/Spring 2012 schedule is shaping up to be quite dynamic, so stay tuned for more about our upcoming events.