NEH Awards ED Museum

One of the benefits of the second wave women’s movement was a reassessment, by poets and critics, of the work and life of Emily Dickinson.

That watershed can be marked in 1976 when Adrienne Rich published “Vesuvius at Home: The Power of Emily Dickinson” in Parnassus: poetry in review which, three years later, appeared  in her book On Lies, Secrets, and Silence.

Now the National Endowment for the Humanities is making it possible for the Emily Dickinson Museum to bring the fruits of more than 40 years of those re-imaginings — of the poet’s work and life — into a year-long interpretive planning process.

The aim of this NEH-funded iterative process is to unite the Museum’s historic spaces and collections in an effort to better serve its growing contemporary audience.

As one of 7 Scholar-Advisors to this planning process, I’ll be looking with keen attention at the family’s private areas of this, pictured, historic home and the kitchen wing that juts out to the left. These are some of the spaces the poet often occupied with, near to hand, gardeners, maids, stable hands, laundry workers, and general laborers.

Emily Dickinson could often be found writing in these private realms alongside those working in the kitchen. Or could overhear laborers in the garden as she composed in the pantry or consulted with these men in her garden.

In her word-shop, the poet wrote in a domestic sphere inhabited by African Americans, English and Irish immigrants, Yankees, and Native people.

Emily Dickinson was hardly alone and theirs were some of the voices that inflected her omnivorous ear and whose labor freed her from kitchen duties so she had the energy and time to write.

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