REGION — Kristen Case of Temple and Linda Britt of Wilton were recognized with the 2020 Maine Literary Award. The annual award is sponsored by the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance (MWPA) which selects one recipient per genre.
Britt who received the award for her play, “I Smile, Of Course, And Go On Drinking Tea” teaches Spanish at the University of Maine at Farmington (UMF). While she has written and directed nine other plays, she said this award lends a certain air of legitimacy to her writing.
“There’s something about being a Spanish professor writing plays. It’s just not expected first of all, and it also always has been a side thing for me because of what I do for a living,” Britt said during a Zoom interview. “So I think it felt to me like people would look at my work a little differently if I have this award from being recognized as a playwright.”
“I Smile, Of Course, And Go On Drinking Tea” dramatizes the tumultuous relationship between the 20th century American poet T.S. Eliot and his first wife Vivienne Haigh-Wood Eliot from her point of view.
Britt created a literary collage for the script by weaving her own writing with lines from poems by T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf and Bertrand Russell that are available on the public domain.
“This play for me, it combines three things that I really love a lot: one is theater, one is poetry and one is puzzles,” Britt said. “So it started with T.S. Eliot’s work, with his public domain work, and it was a lot of fun to find these lines of his poetry that I could imagine either in his mouth, in this particular scene or moment, but also in the other characters in the play.”
Case also teaches at UMF as an English professor and was recognized for her book of poetry, Principles of Economics. Much like Britt, this award was equally significant to Case because it acknowledges writing that is not affiliated with her profession. Case was ecstatic to learn that her work resonated within her community as she feels that her poetry can be a little strange and difficult.
“So that’s really lovely, and it’s surprising to me that when I am really writing in a way that feels deeply personal and private that it’s still finding an audience,” Case said over a Zoom interview.
Principles of Economics documents and explores the feelings of loss and grief that Case experienced after her father’s passing and the death of her former partner six months later.
The book includes the poem “Decay” which Case wrote in her father’s hospital room the day before he died. Case admitted that all of the poems are difficult for her to read as they transport her back to memories with her late loved ones.
“That was part of the project, really not wanting to forget those moments, and the experience of just total opening out of the abyss of grief,” Case said. “Part of that feeling is being kind of horrified at the prospect that someday you won’t feel that way, and one day you’ll forget it. And so I think part of writing the book was a way for me to keep in touch with that experience too.”
Case also received the 2016 literary award for her collection of poems, Little Arias, but she considers Principles of Economics to be her first book-length project.
“The poems in this book are different in that I’ve never written a series of poems that were interconnected and on one theme or idea,” Case said.
The recipients will unconventionally celebrate their awards this year due to COVID-19. MWPA hosted a virtual awards ceremony which presidential inaugural poet Richard Blanco spoke at to congratulate the writers.
Britt still has tentative plans to direct her play for a late August or early September performance at the Community Little Theater (CLT) in Auburn. With six actors plus stage crew, Britt hopes to admit 40 people into the theater to watch the performance while adhering to state-mandated gathering guidelines.
While Britt anticipates actors wearing masks during rehearsals, she hopes that won’t be the case during performances if she is able to develop enough spacing within the stage direction.
“Eliot’s language is different enough as it is, and so I don’t know that the audience – especially given the ones that are going to have to be far away from the stage – I am not sure if they would catch the language if the actor is masked. “That said, it’s mid-June and I am not sure where we’ll be in two months,” Britt said.
The Board of Directors will make a decision on June 29, as to whether or not CLT can accommodate Britt’s play while simultaneously following COVID-19 guidelines. The theater is currently closed and had to cancel its summer productions.
“I’ve directed there multiple times and my kids have grown up in that theater. So I am happy to do it there for no compensation because it’s good for them, and they’re struggling right now as every arts organization is that relies on audiences,” Britt said.
Case is currently occupied with her third collection of poetry, Daphne which addresses sexual conquest through the Greek myth of Daphne and Apollo. Although, she will be taking time out from writing for a socially-distanced celebration with Britt.
“We just ordered a bug tent for our yard, and so I just have this idea of Linda and I having a glass of wine together under our bug tent. So that’s my big celebration plan,” Case said laughing.