AÍFE MURRAY uncovers stories that have been erased. She bears witness to the united nations of household staff who peopled Emily Dickinson’s world at home in kitchen, barn, and gardens; a young, single mother of four standing up against homegrown terrorists; and a white schoolgirl in a forgotten Brown-acceleration case within a “model city” firestorm.

Aífe (pronounced ee-fah) frequently combines text with installation, performance, and mixed media artists’ books. Principle projects include KITCHEN TABLE POETICS about the servants who worked for Emily Dickinson and STAND UP & BE COUNTED about one family’s 20th century civil rights experiences. Other projects include NO HAY CAMINO and A WOMAN SCRATCHED ON IVORY.

She lives and works in San Francisco’s Mission District.

Aífe is the author of Maid as Muse: how servants changed Emily Dickinson’s life and language (non-fiction finalist, Northern California Book Award) which is the culminating piece of a transdisciplinary project – KITCHEN TABLE POETICS – that also included xerography, silkscreen, installation, poetry, tours, and performance art. In the late 90s  she created and led her first walking tour of the Dickinson servants’ Amherst which was co-narrated by servant descendants and current Dickinson Museum house cleaners and gardeners. Aífe collaborated with these same cleaners and gardeners on the artist book Art of Service. These were included in the Mead Art Museum’s Word as Object: Emily Dickinson and Contemporary Art.

For LitCrawl NYC 2012 Aífe created the interactive An Emily Dickinson Sense Surround with the poet’s favorite music performed live, cakes to sample from her favorite recipes, typical plants and flowers she once grew, and the recitation of poems and family stories told around a kitchen table set with baking and garden tools of the kind favored by the poet (with collaborators Marta McDowell, David Giovacchini, and Cynthia Dickinson). In 2015 — for her #OldSkillsNewMinds — Aífe taught Dickinson enthusiasts to bake the poet’s prized cakes with the same methods and tools Emily Dickinson herself used in the 19th century.

She has been in-residence at the Emily Dickinson Museum; was an affiliated scholar with Stanford University’s Institute for Research on Gender; the Phyllis C. Wattis Foundation Fellow at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program; and named the 2007 Scholar in Amherst by the Emily Dickinson International Society.

Aífe is currently working on STAND UP & BE COUNTED (SUBC).

One aspect  of SUBC focuses on her grandmother going toe to toe with the KKK in The Ku Klux Klan at Home in Hillsdale. For this work she was awarded a research fellowship from the Gilder Lehrman Institute for American History and writing fellowships at the Millay Colony, where she was the Corrine Steel & Synnova Bay Hayes Fellow, and the Hawthornden Castle International Retreat for Writers. Link to an introduction on Medium: Remembrance Versus Reverence or visit this this NJS site to download a PDF of The KKK at Home in Hillsdale.

We Bused in New Haven – a later chronological piece of SUBC – is a personal account of school desegregation when Aífe was named with two dozen other white and black children in a Brown-implementation case in her New England school district. Her father is also named in the lawsuit, having added both of them to it forty years after witnessing the Klan attacks on his mother. For this work she received an alumni residency at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program.

In 2015 Aífe made a deep dive into Spanish, a language that for five decades has been infusing her ear. For this project, titled NO HAY CAMINO, she writes daily in this unmastered language, unclear what this project will become. Or, as Spanish poet Antonio Machado writes, there is no path and you find it by walking.

Previous transdisciplinary works include A WOMAN SCRATCHED ON IVORY (incl. mixed media artists’ books) exhibited in San Francisco at Small Press Traffic Literary Arts Center and Intersection for the Arts and published in Everything Is Real Except the Obvious (Em Press, Mill Valley, CA 1990)


Over the fence strawberries grow: silkscreen on applique apron, c. 1997

Art of Service: artist books, covers, 1997

Photo: coconut cake & gingerbread baked in 2015 ED workshop, Amherst, MA

Photo: Klanswoman regalia, early 20th century, Bergen County, NJ

Photo: Aífe Murray, New Haven Free Public Library, c. 1965, credit: Michael Marcus