I am often asked how I wrote this book. The why and how entwined, are difficult to prise apart. With that comes other thoughts. Did the moments of grace instigate the project or feed it? What excites us and how do we cultivate that and how are we changed by a project of intense interest, and possibly, duration?
I can’t answer all of that in this moment but I can describe some beginnings. Who I was then. Where I am now. Two different people, almost, linked by a project of long duration.
My task initially: to uncover the “unseen and invisible” people in Emily Dickinson’s life and our own.
The story of Emily Dickinson’s maid, and really any and all of her servants, had been mostly overlooked in 100 years of Dickinson scholarship and nearly a dozen popular biographies. Many key records that would have helped uncover the servant story had been deemed unimportant and were, in the course of time, discarded.
The seed for Maid as Muse came about when I standing in my local library’s reading room. I had slipped into the library stacks for a quick visit. I was the mother of a young child, worked full time, and was enrolled as a student in a creative writing program. I was always on the go.
Everything in those days was done in slivers of time. So naturally, given Emily Dickinson’s large opus, I was curious about how she had time to write. I knew she was a prolific baker and cook. How did she get out of the kitchen to write?
I opened a popular biography and the first thing I saw was a photograph of Emily Dickinson’s immigrant maid. Because my Irish grandmother had been in domestic service, I instantly felt connected to this photograph of Irish immigrant maid Margaret Maher. I was hooked.
(It was only later, that I found out that Emily Dickinson didn’t entirely get out of the kitchen and that she actually wrote poems in between baking with her maid!)
At the begining, in the library that winter afternoon, I needed to know the servant story but I was not a trained researcher. And this was going to require creative and devoted sleuthing…
-To be continued-