Saturday, March 31, is the 11th annual international SWAN Day — SWAN standing for Support Women Artists Now — and {elbow room} is celebrating with an evening of selected readings at Waterfall Arts, 256 High St., beginning at 7 p.m.

The event, produced by Lisa Leaverton of {elbow room}, features acclaimed Maine playwright Carolyn Gage, perhaps best known for her Lambda Literary Award-winning one-woman show “The Second Coming of Joan of Arc.” The SWAN Day event, however, is not a play or performance; dubbed "The Secret Lives of Edna St. Vincent Millay and Rachel Carson," the evening offers readings from the letters and writings of these famous Maine writers.

Joining Gage, who lives on Mount Desert Island, will be Belfast’s Kathryn Robyn and College of the Atlantic’s Katharine Turok; and Catherine Buxton and other members of the site-specific Bare Portland.

“It's involving a large geographic range and it’s intergenerational — a young women's company and then a bunch of us women that are older,” Gage said by phone a week before the event. “I'm excited about it. I think it's wonderful!”

The one-night-only event, which will include discussion after two half-hour readings, came about because Leaverton got in touch with Gage after seeing her in a performance.

“She said that she had this production company down in Belfast and she was interested in doing some of my work, and I had been thinking about doing this for women's history,” Gage said.

March being Women’s History Month, it seemed a good time to present the selected readings. Gage said, “You know, it's still March!” and the pieces quickly fell into place. She didn’t know any actors in the Midcoast, so Leaverton got Gage in touch with Robyn and Turok, making up a trio for the Carson selections.

“The Rachel Carson, these women are middle-aged. But the Millay is kind of about her college years, so I'm like, all right, I got to get some young girls. So I just put up a casting call on Facebook. Catherine Buxton answered and it turned out she had a whole company,” said Gage.

The “Secret Lives” are not so secret to true fans of Millay and Carson; Gage is focused on the relationships these Maine writers had with other women, as revealed in their writings. While the multi-genre artist Millay famously burned the candle at both ends, Carson is best known for her courageous “Silent Spring,” a science-based indictment of pesticides, especially the now-banned DDT. Another book, “Always, Rachel,” contains fervent letters between Carson and her Southport neighbor Dorothy Freeman.

“We're presenting the narrative of the lesbian aspect of these women's lives … interacting with the words of these women, it's very difficult to remain in denial about this when you are confronted with the things they actually wrote,” Gage said.

Gage’s own writing has celebrated the lesbian lives of a number of historical figures, from the Wild West’s Calamity Jane and American multi-sports star Babe Didrikson to Maine’s own Fly Rod Crosby. She knows that doing so can ruffle feathers.

“Historically, there's been a lot of prejudice against people in same-sex relationships. So when you have folks who are beloved authors, or any other figure … you have people already invested in these cultural icons,” she said. “Then the evidence surfaces that they are lesbian, or some portion of their life or their relationships were lesbian, and a lot of people are just in real denial about it.”

Another reaction Gage has come across is less denial than diminishment: the figure in question “might have had a girlfriend,” but that has nothing to do with the work that makes her famous.

“I believe that both of these readings make it very clear that it's terribly important to understand the work of these women in light of their relationships. For example, Rachel was in this relationship with Dorothy at the time of her writing ‘Silent Spring,’” Gage said.

In fact, Gage suspects some of what gave Carson the courage to take on the Monsanto of her day came from her connection with Freeman at a time when same-sex relationships were forbidden enough to destroy reputations, careers and lives.

“It was a very courageous book, still is today …all the more courageous when you look at the fact she had a big secret; she was terribly vulnerable,” said Gage.

Living in the proverbial closet was “like she'd been flexing those muscles to live against the grain for a long time,” Gage said, making the DDT fight “kind of a graduation exercise.”

“I think it's very important to look at the kind of confidence and courage these lesbians lived. To say that that has nothing to do with the fact they took these amazingly courageous stances in their writing is insane,” Gage said. “Where do you think they built that muscle?”

The idea for these portraits-via-selected-writings began back in 2012, when Maine legalized same-sex marriage, after years of back-and-forth legislative action and referenda on marriage equality. Gage said she had become very impatient with the waves of homophobia each effort saw and wondered how attitudes could be changed. She thought about the associations that came up for people when they heard the word “lesbian.”

“A lot of people had two thoughts: one was pornographic and the other was ‘sinner.’ Sadly, they probably still do,” she said. “They don't think, ‘lesbian — oh, the woman who founded the environmental movement and arguably saved the planet from destruction’ or ‘that amazing Pulitzer Prize-winning poet from Camden’ or “oh, gosh, Sarah Orne Jewett, one of the very few women novelists in the 19th century to actually be in the canon with Herman Melville and Hawthorne!’”

Those positive associations do more than set literary heritages straight (as it were); they also pave the way for the next generation.

“I just felt like then, when a daughter comes home and comes out to [her parents], they'll go, ‘Oh sweetie, that's wonderful! You mean you're lesbian like Rachel Carson?’ So that's where the idea came from,” Gage said.

The Carson-Freeman relationship in particular can help widen the definition. The women were 46 and 55, respectively, when they met “and it's kind of hard to impose that on a porno movie, you know, these middle-class, middle-age New England women.” Mainers are proud of famous Mainers, Gage said, “and if you're going to hate on all lesbians, I guess you're going to have to throw out” Edna St. Vincent Millay, Rachel Carson, Sarah Orne Jewett, May Sarton and Marguerite Yourcenar.

“I was like, oh my god, some of the greatest women writers in the world are Maine women writers and they're lesbians, or they had significant lesbian aspects of their life. I thought that might be a good way to kind of help change attitudes,” she said.

Art is not created in a vacuum — and often it is only created when the artist is true to him- or herself.

“I think who you're with, whether married or not, is always a big part of your artistic output,” said Gage.

One of Gage’s favorite letters from “Always, Rachel” makes clear how Carson’s relationship with Freeman and the writing of “Silent Spring” were intertwined. Freeman was very concerned about the pesticide industry’s resistance and how it might reveal their relationship in order to discredit Carson. Carson’s reply acknowledges Freeman’s fears, but makes clear she needs her on her side.

“She says something like 'I know you don't want me to do this, but it's about the planet. It's about, will your children have a planet, will your grandchildren have a planet?' It’s a very moving letter,” Gage said.

Gage said the letter speaks to the depth of intimacy between the women, making clear the vital connection between what Carson wrote and who was in her life.

“Rachel is writing to her really movingly, kind of saying, 'I need you on board … I can't possibly do this if the woman I love is fighting me every inch of the way. I'm fighting the whole rest of the world,'” she said.

After the two sets of readings, there will be a “talk back” with the audience, which Gage said she is really looking forward to. She said "The Secret Lives of Edna St. Vincent Millay and Rachel Carson" is for anyone interested in lesbian culture and lesbian history, or with a particular interest in Carson or Millay.

“It’s high time we stop closeting these writers. It does a real disservice to writers like Millay and Carson when this truth about their lives is edited out,” Gage said. “I think it's going to be a very juicy evening!”

Admission is free; donations will be accepted for the nonprofit Waterfall Arts. A co-production with Waterfall Arts, {elbow room} is a space for incubating and presenting original performance, storytelling and theater experiments for mature audiences. This evening’s adult content is not suitable for children or teens.