A late Maine writer’s passion for her craft has led to two new scholarships offered by the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance (MWPA). One will pay for female high school students in Waldo or Knox counties to attend the Longfellow Young Writers’ Workshop at the University of Maine at Farmington each July, and the second is for female writers 18 and older in those counties to attend a literary conference in Brooklyn, New York, each September.

The scholarships honor longtime MWPA member Elizabeth Ilgenfritz of Montville, who died in October 2016 at age 65 after a brief illness. A month before her death, she attended the Slice Literary Writers’ Conference in Brooklyn, which aims, among other things, to boost the careers of aspiring writers.

Ilgenfritz wrote “Anne Hutchinson,” a young-readers’ biography of a Puritan woman banished from her colony for speaking against the religious leaders. She was working on a young-adult novel, “Bark,” when she died last fall.

After her death, her husband, David Jacobson, and her friend and writing peer, Kathrin Seitz, approached MWPA Executive Director Joshua Bodwell about funding a scholarship in Ilgenfritz’s name.

In a matter of months, MWPA members and others contributed nearly $25,000 to support those scholarships, “and the money continues to trickle in,” Bodwell said, calling the level of funding “astonishing. This allows us to commit to these two scholarships for more than a decade.”

The first winners were just named: Caneel Cheskin, a senior at Belfast Area High School, will attend the Longfellow conference and Nancy Galland of Stockton Springs will attend the Slice conference in September 2018. The second round of applications will open Feb. 1, Bodwell said.

Seitz helped spur on the project, working closely with Jacobson to formulate the idea and then bringing it to the MWPA. She was shocked by her friend’s death, which was sudden and unexpected. “I had this strong urge to do something,” Seitz said. “The response was amazing and heartening. … I felt very engaged with her, writer to writer and woman to woman. She was passionate, and I have tremendous respect for anyone who is committed and passionate.”

Added Jacobson, “I am extremely excited and extremely grateful, and Elizabeth would have been so excited. I am so blown away by the response of people. It was a beautiful experience, way beyond my wildest dreams.”

Bodwell said the response to the scholarship campaign was a testament to Ilgenfritz’s impact on her friends in Maine’s writing community, in the midcoast where she lived and statewide. “We had some $500 and $1,000 donors, and one $5,000 donor, and lots and lots of $25 and $50 donations. It was very grassroots,” he said. “Elizabeth was incredibly warm, humble and very sweet. I think that’s reflected in these scholarships.”

 

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