Backstory of The Other Dickinson
The Other Dickinson is a novel-in-progress (left) borne from a graduate thesis (right).
At some point, I became really, really frustrated with the “narrative” of Emily Dickinson.
Spinster. Recluse. Afraid of humanity, general conversations, and you know, air? Altogether, just a shadowy wisp of a crazy woman.
But I believe the person who wrote the poetry I read and love and cherish—say My Triumph lasted till the Drums, say I’ll clutch, and I’ll clutch, and so many others—was absolutely nothing like the depictions that have hurricaned into existence since, eh, 1886ish (actually before her death, but hey, let’s be kind).
To state it plainly: I want to rewrite the story.
Enter the main problem: I have written poetry all my life. My brain works best in distilling—in brevity—in well, anything but fiction.
Throwing caution to the wind(ow), I poured over Dickinson’s existence from the scholarship standpoint—devouring anything and everything written about her by those who studied her before (Sewall, Smith, Leyda, Patterson, Taggard, Gordon, Griffin Wolff, and on and on)—but I found endless contradictions, so many things that simply couldn’t be possible based upon dates, places, and the like, as well as endless presumptions fueling what we’ve come to “know” of her.
To examine more closely, I turned then to the obvious choices—those closer to the scene—Martha and Mabel, respectively (Martha Dickinson Bianchi and Mabel Loomis Todd). Knowing full well the effects of trauma, the influence of an audience, irrepressible bias, and so forth, would all need to be sifted through for finding anything concrete in their materials, I still read every word I could access, including what was saved of Dickinson’s personal letters (all soundly edited posthumously and judiciously selected by her editors).
Presumptions, then—unfortunately (or fortunately for a fiction writer, ahem?)—were the way of it with Dickinson. There are infinite blanks and blocks when one seeks to comprehend the poet/the person—and in my humble opinion—some of those blanks and blocks were created and installed purposefully for that reason. And so, to be plain, across nearly 8 years now, my own stolen moments have been about piecing together the story I find underlying when I read her works. Arrive: The Other Dickinson.