New Material on Domestic Front

Posted in poetry on August 8th, 2016 by admin – Be the first to comment

New materials  about the women and men who formed a part of Emily Dickinson’s domestic world may soon become available for virtual and onsite visitors to the Emily Dickinson Museum.

New partnerships in the Pioneer Valley are in the developing stages with a plan to give visitors and scholars access to new documents and photographs on the maids, laborers, gardeners, blacksmiths, and others who interacted with and formed an intimate part of the poet’s little seen world at home.

More details soon of what is in the nascent stage of an exciting initiative about Emily Dickinson, poet, left in photo, and Margaret Maid, maid, on right, and her domestic colleagues.

All Quiet on the Snarkless Front

Posted in Media on February 16th, 2016 by admin – Be the first to comment

A special entry at the Berlin Film Festival, receiving a 4 star review by The Guardian, Terrence Davies’ A Quiet Passion film about Emily Dickinson is set to open in American movie houses.  The poet is, according to reviewer Andrew Pulver, “superbly played with a sort of restless passivity by Cynthia Nixon.”  Uh oh.

Movie action circulates between library, bedroom, and parlor — that tired narrative. Renown during her lifetime for her culinary prowess — could we see Emily writing at her pastry board and hovering over the stove? A confirmed naturalist, how about dog Carlo at her side while she tramps widely searching for specimens on the forest floor?

Early movie goers have complained of boredom.

An early clip has disappointed biographers and literary critics — perhaps because Emily Dickinson’s famous “Damascus blade wit” has been reassigned to the character of a Ms. Buffum. No Emily snark?

Sorry, but the early reports are of a passionless quiet.

Taste Ours-

Posted in cooking on August 22nd, 2015 by admin – Be the first to comment

Coconuts to crack and grate, lemons and limes to zest, we worked at big round tables mixing everything by hand a la Emily Dickinson and her maid Margaret Maher. The two often worked together and so we baked in small groups too.

We made fresh coconut cake and gingerbread formed into light and soft cookies — all from Emily Dickinson’s own recipes.

At left is one of our work tables and the right the coconut cakes about to go into the oven.

Here are the post-oven results cooling on racks and ready to be consumed at our afternoon tea.

A satisfying day in Amherst, MA where workshop participants sought summer and tasted Emily’s.

All part of my new project #OldSkills4NewMinds

Emily A La Carte!

Posted in cooking on July 11th, 2015 by admin – Be the first to comment

Roll up sleeves, tie apron, take hammer to coconut “testa” and “mesocarp” and grate the “nut” -

That’s some of what we’ll be doing in my Emily Dickinson baking workshop when preparing to make these light-as-air and delicious coconut cakes.

It’s this Saturday, July 17, in Amherst, MA

You may sign up for that workshop or for Marta McDowell’s herbarium-making intensive or any piece of the Emily-themed weekend!

Call: 413-259-1584  or write:  jsgray [at sign]

Would have Summer? Taste of ours

325 Degrees of Edible Success

Posted in cooking on May 14th, 2015 by admin – Be the first to comment

That’s gingerbread fresh from my oven made from Emily Dickinson’s recipe.

These cookies are glazed with egg yolk and a piece of candied ginger.

For a few days I’ve been testing Emily Dickinson’s recipes for gingerbread, rice cake, and coconut cake.

Today I’ve declared the baking a divinely edible success –

I’ll be leading a baking workshop with these recipes in July for an Emily-themed weekend in Amherst, Massachusetts, the poet’s hometown.

“Would you like Summer? Taste of ours-” takes place July 17-19, 2015 and celebrates Emily Dickinson’s passions as poet, gardener and baker.

The weekend will be height of summer & hands-on:

We’ll make gingerbread cookies from Emily’s recipe and her coconut cake which is — if today’s test in my kitchen is any indication –  like eating a sweet cloud. For the 8″ cakes, pictured, I grated about half a fresh coconut. The top is dusted with more coconut and decorating sugar.

Horticulturist extraordinaire Marta McDowell will be leading the gardening and flower aspects of what promises to be a wonderful weekend. If I wasn’t in it, I’d sign up for it!

If you’d like to taste summer Emily-style, join us!

By the way, are you wondering if the poet could bake as well as she wrote? Her father insisted on her bread and the family and neighbors perhaps knew her better as a baker than a writer!

But writing was never far away for she kept paper and pencil by her pastry board. There are poems written on the reverse of her recipes (or vice versa). Nothing like having your hands busy to free up your mind for that “naturally occurring wisdom.”

Would you like Summer? Taste of Ours -

Posted in cooking on January 27th, 2015 by admin – Be the first to comment

Baking Gangnam Style Amherst Style!

Join me next July 17-19 in Emily Dickinson’s lovely town of Amherst, Massachusetts

We’ll explore the life of the poet through her passions of gardening, baking, writing

Garden digger Marta McDowell leads a flower project

I’ll teach you how to bake Emily Style

Jane Wald will get readerly

Sign up early to ensure your space at the greenhouse, kitchen & library tables!

Emily Dickinson’s Birthday in Ferguson

Posted in Justice on December 8th, 2014 by admin – Be the first to comment

There’s a trend to look forward, not back, when it comes to race.

This is what we are urged to do now.

It was equally true in the decades after emancipation.

Emily Dickinson, born 184 years ago this December 10, is a good example.

The poet wrote powerfully about the Civil War and slavery. Yet, twenty years after emancipation she denigrated a new African American gardener that had just been hired by her family; something she would not have done before emancipation.

And she had plenty of opportunity. Many of those hired by her family — as gardeners, couriers, household helpers, stable hands –  and upon the Dickinsons depended over the years were of African descent.

Emily Dickinson’s evolution on race is a good starting place to examine origins for the mess we are in with Ferguson & an epidemic of copycat crimes.

Watermelon & Whiskey

Posted in Justice on November 26th, 2014 by admin – Be the first to comment

Thank you Daniel Handler for reminding me I can wallow my face in the sweet pulp of a watermelon and nobody observing my annual rite of summer is going to ascribe it to anything but pleasure or gluttony or both. White privilege.

Full disclosure: I can’t tolerate alcohol and I am of Irish descent.

Did you forget Mr. Handler — when you made that hurtful watermelon comment while congratulating Ms.Woodson on her National Book Award win for her memoir in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming — you were not in the progressive bubble of San Francisco where so much is said ironically? (Is that what happened?)

On MLK, Jr Day come this January, how about we all read some Paul Dunbar and Nikki Finney. When March 17 rolls around, the day everyone is Irish, how about re-reading The Country Girls or a play by Mark O Rowe.

Just let that sink in our minds.

Are there books after death?

Posted in Writer news on November 10th, 2014 by admin – Be the first to comment

labyrinth nyc

from “Bound & Stitched”

When you’re on a nonfiction reading streak, you somehow don’t question it. For me it started with Margalit Fox’s The Riddle of the Labyrinth. I was fascinated by Fox’s resuscitation of Alice Kober, the little-known linguist who laid the painstaking groundwork for the decipherment of Linear B. Margalit Fox’s vocation is the “rescuing of lost souls” like Kober, as lead obituary writer for The New York Times.

That’s an occupation I’ve harbored as secret desire, and in my own way I practiced it, when I exhumed stories of the household staff who once worked for Emily Dickinson. At this moment, though, with my small tower of nonfiction deliciously perched on the round copper table in the living room, I was the one who needed to get lost. I demanded rescue from souls going missing. I picked up Labyrinth and was happily captured from page one.

Allan” I said when he walked in on Sunday morning with his book bag slung over his bony right shoulder. He stood on my living room rug in his stocking feet, his army-green t-shirt hanging loose from his shoulders like drying laundry pinned to a line. “Well, then” he said, smiling in that slant way that meant what have you got new, his hand out, palm up, urging me to say more or put a book in it….

Spintale - Daniella Woolf

He eyed my stack of books, most of them covered by thin cellophane with which the library wraps its cloth-bound books. These were titles I couldn’t hang onto if I grew attached. I liked it that way. The anonymous sharing. Turning a page to find the slipped in photograph of a Bulgarian man in traditional hat, slightly blurry, or the previous reader’s check-out list topped by The Merry Misogynist by Colin Coterill. “How could you?” I thought, speaking to my predecessor. “And the new J. K. Rowling,” I said reprovingly. I scolded in my head, but I was excited by these traces of someone else in “my books.” I suppose it was much the same way men felt at the baths, before the city closed them down, when bodies were shared, anonymously, and traces lingered from someone else’s pleasure….

Read more of “Bound & Stitched” in the summer issue of Catamaran Literary Reader illustrated by the evocative work of Daniella Woolf.

To the question of books after death, “Bound & Stitched” says yes.

Slavery Ever Present for Emily Dickinson

Posted in Justice on February 28th, 2014 by admin – Be the first to comment

We don’t usually associate Emily Dickinson with slavery or legally enforced human trafficking.

Emily was 22 when Solomon Northup’s book appeared about his twelve years in human bondage. In that same period of time a number of the people who worked on the poet’s property as stable hands, gardeners, and household workers were free Blacks.

Slavery was thus present for it posed a constant threat to those free black workers. Anyone could be tricked and sold like Solomon Northrup.

Slavery was so pervasive that it became the metaphorical, or actual, subject of many of Emily Dickinson’s poems — proof that those distant from the slave states were changed by a system that knew no borders.

Read more in my The Bay State Banner opinion.