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A major NEH grant goes to 'Mystery of Edgar Allan Poe'

Baltimore-based designer and filmmaker Wally Coberg got what he calls "the very best of birthday presents" this week: a $60,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to develop a documentary called "The Mystery of Edgar Allan Poe." Karen S. Mittleman of the NEH characterized the grant as "a huge vote of confidence from the Endowment in the quality of your project."

Coberg hopes that this co-production of his Cinema Group and Eric Stange's Boston-based Spy Pond Productions will "reveal the man behind the myth." Poe's cousin, Dr. Harry Lee Poe, president of the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, will host the documentary. As Harry Poe says in one interview, "If Poe the man met Poe the myth on the street, he wouldn't recognize him."

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Coberg noted in an email yesterday that William Donald Schaefer "awarded me a Governor's Citation (on Poe's birthday in 1993) for my work regarding Poe. It's sad he didn't live to hear this news."

The NEH development grant enables Coberg and his collaborators to work with scholarly advisers to craft a finished screenplay and chart an accurate budget. They also will begin a fund-raising drive, partly to produce a 5-8 minute preview video that will be crucial for them to compete for an NEH production grant.

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In an email to his partners on the project, Coberg confessed that he sometimes wondered "if it was really necessary to live Poe's life of poverty just to be able to make an accurate film about him." He said that without the support of agencies like the NEH, "Eddie's story would doubtlessly not be told."

For a complete account of the project so far, go to www.mysteryofpoe.com.

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