A literary legacy
When Montville’s Elizabeth Ilgenfritz died unexpectedly last fall, her family, friends and colleagues were left reeling. Six months later, two scholarships they created in her honor are taking applications.
The Sarah Lawrence alum worked for years as an editor, copyeditor and proofreader in New York City before moving with her husband, glassblower David Jacobson, to Waldo County in 2003. Her biography of Anne Hutchinson was published by Putnam in 1990; at the time of her death, she was working on a young adult novel titled “Bark.”
“She was looking to get her first book published in fiction,” said Jacobson. “She’d been working on this particular book for several years, had just finished the first draft and was in the middle of the rewrite.”
A month before she died, Ilgenfritz and Jacobson took a road trip to New York so she could attend the Slice Literary Writers’ Conference. Slice is held every September at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, N.Y., and it was recommended to Ilgenfritz by a sister writer.
“A good friend of mine said, you’ve got to get to know Elizabeth! People had great things to say about her, so we became friendly,” said Rockport-based writing coach Kathrin Seitz. “I talked to her about the Slice Conference and told her I thought she should go to it.”
Both women attended Slice 2016; Ilgenfritz and Jacobson stayed with friends — “I did not attend, but I had a great time wandering around the city, which I like to do,” said Jacobson. A little over a month later, Ilgenfritz died, leaving all who knew her in a state of shock. Seitz got the idea for the scholarships and, “against a lot of advice,” she contacted Jacobson, whom she barely knew, about it.
“It happened to be so sudden: she was writing a good book … and David was, let’s go,” Seitz said.
“It was Kathrin’s idea, shortly after my wife died, the idea of honoring Elizabeth with a scholarship of some sort,” said Jacobson. “I was extremely thrilled over the prospect of being able to honor Elizabeth’s memory.”
Ilgenfritz’s longtime membership in the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance, and the fact she and Seitz had met MWPA Executive Director Joshua Bodwell during a Slice workshop, led Seitz to contact him with the idea. Bodwell reached out to Slice and to the University of Maine at Farmington, which hosts the annual Longfellow Young Writers’ Workshop.
“Working with Josh, for whom I have so much respect, was great,” said Seitz. “We didn’t have to form a nonprofit, and he was gracious and super-helpful.”
The Ilgenfritz Scholarship to Longfellow Young Writers’ Workshop enables one female high school student, entering her sophomore, junior or senior year and living in Waldo or Knox county, to attend the Longfellow Young Writers’ Workshop, held each July at UMF. The scholarship covers the workshop fee for the entire week, all lodging and meals.
The Ilgenfritz Scholarship to Slice Literary Writers’ Conference enables one female writer, 18 or older and a high school graduate living in Waldo or Knox county, to attend the annual conference, held each September in Brooklyn, N.Y. The scholarship covers conference fees for both days; the option for a one-on-one editor or agent meeting; and a cash honorarium.
“I think we raised enough money to be able to do transportation to the event and also give some towards a place to stay,” said Seitz.
Raising the money turned out to be a real comfort for all who knew the honoree.
“A lot of David and Elizabeth’s friends were so truly shocked and they were happy to contribute, to have something they could do,” said Seitz.
Jacobson put together a list of his wife’s and the couple’s friends and family and did a mass email, “and I also did an announcement on Facebook for all of Elizabeth’s friends and her contacts and all of my contacts.” Seitz did the same. The result has been overwhelming, Jacobson said. The initial goal was $10,000; as of April 11, the scholarship fund was at $19,700.
“They sent the word out to Elizabeth's friends and family and, wow, in a few weeks, there was funding for a decade,” said Bodwell. “It's been one of the most beautiful events to watch.”
The scholarships are for women because “Elizabeth was really proactive in wanting to see women and young women further themselves,” said Jacobson.
“And we chose Knox and Waldo because that’s where we live; we spend a lot of time in Camden and, of course, in Belfast and the surrounding area,” he said.
Between them, the scholarships offer opportunities to local teens through those well along into adulthood.
“Elizabeth was 65 at the time and was very excited to be able to go down to Slice and sit with three literary agents from Manhattan,” said Jacobson. “It was an excellent experience for her.”
The experience of creating the scholarships has been a source of comfort for all involved.
“It really felt good to spend time and focus and to get people in,” said Seitz who, with Jacobson, will be among the readers when the applications reach the finalist stage.
“I’m looking forward to that a great deal. I’ve never done that, but certainly have read Elizabeth’s manuscripts for years,” said Jacobson. “I feel honored, really, to be one of the readers for this. Josh and his crew will be the ones with the final say, of course.”
Deadline for applications for the Ilgenfritz Scholarship to Longfellow Young Writers’ Workshop is May 1. Deadline for applications for the Ilgenfritz Scholarship to Slice Literary Writers’ Conference is June 1. Details and applications, as well as a donation button for those who wish to add to the fund, are online at mainewriters.org/ilgenfritz-scholarships.
“This has been so heart-warming, so gratifying,” said Jacobson. “Elizabeth wasn’t a very public person, but I know she’d be very touched by this, very happy.”
There will be a benefit event for the Ilgenfritz Scholarships Wednesday, May 17, at the Pig + Poet, the restaurant of Whitehall in Camden. Doors will open at 7 p.m. and poetry readings, on a “swine” theme, begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets will be $12, with a portion going to the new scholarships.