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Loring’s papers gifted to Maine Women Writers Collection

PORTLAND, Maine – Donna Loring has gifted her papers to the Maine Women Writers Collection at the University of New England where they will be in the company of documents from a poet laureate, a Pulitzer Prize winner and other notable women writers.

Loring, the Penobscot Indian Nation’s former representative to the Maine legislature, is the first American Indian woman to be invited to donate her papers to the unique collection.

The MWWC houses the papers of women writers who were born or lived in Maine. They include, among others, former poet laureate Louise Bogan; marine biologist and nature writer Rachel Carson, who is credited with launching the global environmental movement with her 1962 book “Silent Spring;” novelist and short story writer Sarah Orne Jewett, who wrote painterly novels and essays about southern Maine at the turn of the 19th century; and Pulitzer prize-winning novelist Annie E. Proulx, author of “The Shipping News.”

Loring said she was invited to donate her papers by Curator Cally Gurley and Professor Jennifer Tuttle last fall when she was giving a lecture at the college about her 2008 book, “In the Shadow of the Eagle: A Tribal Representative in Maine.”

“My first response was, ‘well, let me think about it,’ but after thinking about it and doing research on the women writers and the collection, I found that they are permanently endowed, so partly it was a decision based on longevity,” Loring said.

The more she thought about it, the more it seemed a good fit with her wish to leave a meaningful legacy to her Penobscot community and other Native people.

“The women at MWWC promised me and agreed to the fact that my papers, writings, etc. would be accessible to Native people first and foremost. I remember growing up when I would hear my grandmother, who was not Indian but knew of Native students at the time that would be researching and trying to find something on Penobscot history, but had to go and sign into an archive and go through lots of questioning. They felt intimidated. I do not want that to happen to Native scholars who want access to my papers, and with this donation to the MWWC I feel that concern has been and will be addressed,” Loring said.

The MWWC was founded in 1959 by two literature teachers – Grace Dow and Dorothy Healy – at Westbrook College, which was then a women’s school before merging with the University of New England. Dow and Healy wanted to honor, preserve and make available to the public the writings of Maine women. The collection now has more than 6,000 volumes on more than 500 Maine women writers including correspondence, manuscripts, personal papers, photographs, typescripts, artifacts and audio and video recordings.

Loring’s papers include literary, career and personal materials – correspondence, writing projects, including the manuscript of “In the Shadow of the Eagle,” legislative documents and notes, artifacts, memorabilia, videos and photographs.

“I’m still not finished. There are things I’m working on now and I’ll be giving them more papers.”

Now that she knows future documents will be going into the collection, will she approach her writing differently?

“No, I won’t,” Loring said with a laugh and without hesitation.

She is a prolific writer and keeper of the written word. Gurley arrived at Loring’s house one Saturday morning in late April and drove off seven hours later with her SUV loaded with 12 cartons, Loring said.

“I didn’t realize I had all that stuff. I mean, I knew I had lots of stuff, but not so much that they’d be interested in. I just didn’t realize how much I’d accumulated over the years, but as we filled the truck up and she drove off – this is going to sound morbid, I know – but I thought if I die tomorrow it would be okay because I’ve left a legacy that’s going to benefit my people.”

And the legacy will grow larger than Loring’s collection of papers. In addition to giving the American Indians top priority in accessing the materials, the MWWC will develop and present a yearly Donna M. Loring Lecture that will address current or historic American Indian or aboriginal issues, civil rights, indigenous rights, women’s issues, and issues of fairness and equality. The first lecture will be presented this fall.

The MWWC will also undertake one or more programs each year to promote the use of the material for scholarly and cultural purposes from a smorgasbord of possibilities – contributing instructional/research materials to course study guides and syllabi on Maine’s American Indians; collaborating on programs about Maine’s Native population with the university’s Office of Multicultural Affairs; working with fundraisers to offer a yearly or biennial research support grant for studying the materials; collaborating with the Wabanaki Center at the University of Maine, Orono, on programs or instructional materials; publishing digitized Loring papers in appropriately contextualized form on the MWWC Web site; and posting study guides on the Loring section of the MWWC Web site.

“I can’t tell you how excited we are about this, especially just now when we’re having our 50th anniversary,” Gurley said. “Donna is not only the first American Indian woman in the collection, which is so important for us, but she’s also a really wonderful writer, not to mention all her other activities, political and otherwise. Our collection spans across literature and history and the work she’s done is part of history – part of Maine history and the national history.”

As curator and librarian, Gurley will process Loring’s collection, creating a kind of annotated table of contents to provide a roadmap for researchers to find their way through the “quite voluminous” materials.

“It’s too big for someone to digest at one time. Of course, someone who wants to write a biography of Donna – which, of course, would be a fabulous idea – would want to understand the whole collection, but that will probably be years in the making. Meanwhile, we hope young American Indian students will come and enjoy it and understand really what Donna has done.”

Although the MWWC does not usually make materials available until the processing is completed, accessing parts of Loring’s collections may be possible before then. Interested individuals should contact Gurley at