Reader Do Not Let Me Die:
A Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay

“My candle burns at both ends; It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends — It gives a lovely light!”

She was once America’s most famous woman poet, known for her love poems in a country not known for love poetry. Her sonnets in classic iambic pentameter, pondering love’s vicissitudes and contemplating her own mortality, reminded her readers of Shakespeare and Catullus. She gave poetry readings to packed audiences all over the country, a petite redhead in a long gown and a black cloak, reciting her famous lines in a penetrating voice: “What lips my lips have kissed and where and why, I have forgotten, and what arms have lain Under my head till morning ….” She was called the “voice of her generation”, that of the liberated New Woman of the Jazz Age. Her uninhibited focus on female sexuality – especially her own – defied the social conventions of the day. Her books outsold those of every other poet. She made headlines. At the height of her powers Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) was a world-wide celebrity.

But toward the end of her life she had gone out of fashion, a casualty of the new artistic movement — Modernism — and changing tastes. Male critics especially, thought her anti-intellectual. Her popularity didn’t help. Nor did her political outspokenness, expressed in her work, but considered un-literary by her contemporaries. Today Millay is not included in most American poetry anthologies despite the enduring admiration of poetry lovers. What happened?

This is a proposal for a feature length documentary about the extraordinary life and poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay, and the ways in which the two intertwined. The story will be told primarily through Millay’s poems, plays, letters and public statements. Biographers, cultural historians, love poets and singer-songwriters will inject their own insights and commentary.

“She is like nothing at all but herself; when she and this generation are gone, the die which stamped her style will be broken.” – fellow poet Elinor Wylie