Links

These links connect to a diverse array of writers, artists, filmmakers, museums, poetry centers, and even a zany "museum" named for a fictional cousin of Emily Dickinson.

 

Writers

MARTHA ACKMANN

Emily's BooksEmily Dickinson brought Martha and me together, back in the 80's, when she was a grad student at UMass Amherst and I was teaching at Mt. Holyoke. She has taught women's studies at Mt. Holyoke College for years, and her Dickinson seminar, which she teaches at the Museum, is one of the most popular courses in the Five-College area. I'm lucky to be a guide for her rapt and dedicated students.

Martha has an impressive range of interests: baseball, the Mercury 13 women astronauts, Emily Dickinson, women's education in the 19th c., country music (esp. Dolly Parton), and her noble fight to protect the world from misused apostrophes. I always learn something when I talk to Martha, and it never feels like a "lesson," but just plain fun.

Her FaceBook page is always worth looking at, filled with the hilarious surprise of seeing things most people miss: like bacon-flavored ice cream (Nashville, TN, natch); the "Leverett, MA yacht club," with boats moored in grassy rural yards; and this week, a stark image of dried cornstalks left by the combine, called "Gathering Loss" by farmers.

What better title for a poem?  I'd better get going...

 

CHRISTOPHER BENFEY

Among my favorite books is Chris Benfey's A Summer of Hummingbirds: Love, Art, and Scandal in the Intersecting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mabel Loomis Todd, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Martin Johnson Heade. Who knew that hummingbirds—an aesthetic obsession—could work their unearthly magic to twine together such diverse people?  When I'm guiding in the Emily Dickinson Museum, I love to watch visitors snatch the book off the shelves and declare, "I've always wanted to read this."

In the book, Emily, involved with Judge Otis Phillips Lord—her late father Edward's best friend—befriends her brother Austin's soon-to-be-lover, the naughty beauty Mabel Loomis Todd. Harriet Beecher Stowe, who lives in Amherst, agonizes over her sons' mournful, drug-addled state. Artist Martin Johnson Heade becomes besotted with Mabel—as do many others, including Austin's son Ned. Meanwhile, hummingbirds dip and swoop, as if to signal a change in the landscape of mind and heart, in the last decades of the 19th century.

Chris Benfey has written about art, literature, history, and his own family. His recent memoir, Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay, delves into the textures of memory.  His work allows us to see how life stories root themselves in elements both fragile and unforgettable. This is a book for listening and touching.

 

MADELEINE BLAIS

I know of few writers who combine compassion, common sense, and wit in their words and conversation as well as Madeleine Blais. If Maddy offered a website called "How to Think and Write," I'd be on it in a second.

Her writings about real people—one can hardly call them "portraits," but something more like "evidence" or "insights"—include memorable words about some hard-bitten, luckless souls depicted in The Heart Is An Instrument. Her essay "Zepp's Last Stand" won the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction in 1980. Her memoir, Uphill Walkers, is a model of how to write about one's life, however difficult, without self indulgence, and in spirited language.

She gathers friends together as she gathers words: with insight, imagination, and the courage to embrace the unexpected.

Maddy is a splendid teacher, and not only in her classroom at UMass.

 

JEROME CHARYN

The Secret Life of Emily DickinsonIn 2010, Jerome Charyn published a novel, The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson, which caused quite a stir among Dickinson's many readers. In my review of it for The Emily Dickinson Journal, I had the fun of quoting some of the many snazzy passages. Here is Charyn's Dickinson, describing a kiss: "...he burgled my mouth while gnawing at my face, and I burgled back." Charyn knows Dickinson's poems, letters, and biography, and can thus sample from those riches in his own narrative. He creates memorable characters (Zilpah Marsh, a Mt. Holyoke seminarian, afflicted with madness), while giving historical characters like Emily's father Edward a fiercely imagined life. Charyn also gets Judge Otis Phillips Lord just right: vigorous and sensual even while suffering the decline of age. As I wrote in my review, "Emily Dickinson had a big heart, and it is the salient achievement of this book to give her enough space to wander in, with her big wild heart leading the way."

Jerome is now working on a non-fiction book on Emily Dickinson as "outlaw," and has just published another novel, I Am Lincoln. He has written dozens of novels, including graphic novels, and is a champion table-tennis player, among many other accomplishments.

When Jerome and his dear friend Lenore Riegel visited Amherst in 2010,  my husband Peter and I had them for lunch—one of the happiest meals ever held around our table. Lenore is beautiful, warm, brilliant, and funny. She manages the FaceBook page for The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson, now linked to this one.

jeromecharyn.com & Jerome Charyn on Facebook

 

NICK CZAP

My stepson, Nick Czap, works as a free-lance writer and photographer in San Francisco. On his frequent travels with his elegant wife Belinda, Nick gathers material about food, people, adventures on foot and by train, and fabulous cars. He has published in the New York Times, The San Francisco, Chronicle, and on the BBC. Visit his website, nickczap.com, and you'll be treated to sensuous, delectable pictures of food (including food he has made—he's an expert cook, like his father Peter), and cars that hum, purr, and roar.

Among my favorite articles Nick has written are  "In Oregon, Truffles Are No Match for Wet Noses" (NYT, August, 2012), "It Followed Me Home. Can I Keep It?" (NYT, November, 2012), and "Pasta with a Perfectionist's Touch" (NYT, April 2013).  Not to be missed is the "Review: Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible" (BBC, April, 2013), which zips off the page and messes with your brain.

 

KITTY BURNS FLOREY

Kitty Florey must use a magic carpet for writing paper. She can transport her readers to scenes that evoke 19th c. New England and New York State, and entangle us in all sorts of family matters—including, of course, scandal. She has worked as an editor as well as a writer, and it shows in her books on the history of handwriting (Script & Scribble, now in paperback, and the hilarious—who knew?—book on diagramming sentences: Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences).

She also has a charming dog, Fred, who likes to eat green peppers.

The Writing Master, her sixth novel, will have a sequel set in Amherst! Fred is helping with the project by placing his gentle marks near the fence of the Emily Dickinson Homestead.  No doubt he knew Emily's dog Carlo ("my shaggy Ally") in a past life.  Check out her website at Kitty Burns Florey, and don't neglect to read her blog and follow her links, like "The Cloud Appreciation Society."

 

JOHN KATZENBACH

When you visit John's website, you'll notice the sly suspicious wink in his photograph. That's John thinking like a journalist, a novelist, a crafter of thrillers, a writer who can give you the wim-wams in his first two paragraphs, and keep the chills crawling until the end.

John often sets his novels in Western Massachusetts, although he disguises "Amherst" under some other mild-mannered Englishy name. He and his lovely, canny wife Madeleine Blais (prize-winning journalist and autobiographer) have been friends of ours for decades. His knowledge of the ways and means of psychopaths is extensive, but he is so trustworthy a writer that even the most rattled readers know that his course is steady. John knows what many of us suspect: that any small town, even an academic place with beautiful vistas and charming houses, conceals evil.

Psycho-expertise or not, he's a nice guy! Generous, warm, compassionate. The stories John and Maddy tell at their sumptuous dinner table are feasts for the spirit and the curious mind.

Wrap yourself in a cozy blanket, supply yourself with comforting drink, and explore johnkatzenbach.com.

 

POLLY LONGSWORTH

The World of Emily DickinsonHistorian, scholar, and the first Chair of the Dickinson Museum's Board of Governors, Polly Longsworth has helped to ground the study of the Dickinsons in history, arts and letters, and the life of the college and the town of Amherst. Her unforgettable book, Austin and Mabel (University of Massachusetts Press, 1984), depicts the "Amherst affair" of Dickinson's brother and a younger woman Mabel Loomis Todd—talented, energetic, and sexy—who became one of Emily's first editors. Clear-headed in portraying the main actors in a scandal that is still talked about in Amherst, Polly has also written a pictorial biography, The World of Emily Dickinson, with a lively narrative and a trove of family photographs, drawings, maps, and illustrations. She also began the important Museum project, "Replenishing the Shelves," dedicated to refurnishing the Dickinson family library with early editions of the books that Emily called "the strongest Friends of the Soul." Now at work on a definitive biography of the poet, Polly speaks with eloquence and expertise on all things Dickinson.  She is a generous, thoughtful reader and friend.

 

CHASE TWICHELL

I met Chase in 1981—is this possible?—when we participated in a reading at Amherst College to raise money for Dennis Brutus, a black South African poet who was being threatened with deportation by the brutal regime there. Through the decades I've watched Chase's poetry grow and twine itself around issues like the fate of the earth, the lives of animals, family mortality, and of course, love.

Chase is one of the most disciplined writers I know, but there's nothing frosty about that commitment. I have learned much from her over the years. She says of her long study of Zen, "Zen and poetry are both studies of the mind. I find the internal pressure exerted by emotion and by a koan to be similar in surprising and unpredictable ways. Zen is a wonderful sieve through which to pour a poem. It strains out whatever's inessential."

Chase used to carry around a little black-and-red notebook with the tag-lines of favorite jokes. One time, visiting me in Amherst, she said she had misplaced it, and could I help her supply the joke-matter to some of these tag-lines? ("Why does a dog …. his ….s?") Most are unrepeatable here. It was one of the most fun evenings I've ever spent.

Check out her bio at blueflowerarts.com/chase-twichell.


SHIRLEY ABBOTT

I met Shirley Abbott in the late 80's, after having read her wonderful book, Womenfolks: Growing Up Down South. I loved the book's insights about southern language and the idioms I grew up with. Adjectives, Shirley Abbott observes, could be gussied up by "taking them on in threes"-"a great big ole," "a tiny little bitty" "a hateful mean ole." No writer I know of has given me the gift of explaining my native tongue with such eloquence and humor. She is a dear friend.

Born in Hot Springs, Arkansas, educated at Texas Women's University, Columbia University, and in France, Shirley has written three memoirs: Womenfolks: Growing Up Down South, The Bookmaker's Daughter, and Love's Apprentice, as well as a novel, The Future of Love, set in New York City during and after 9/11.  She worked for many years in the publishing business in New York, and was editor-in-chief of Horizon Magazine, a beautiful publication that helped to shape its readers' awareness of history and the arts. Married for many years to the late Alex Tomkievicz, artist and illustrator, she is the mother of two daughters, and grandmother to two.

 

Artists & Filmmakers

MICHAEL KLUCKNER

In 2004, I was hunting for cover art for my fourth book of poems, Skeptic Traveler, and discovered Canadian artist and writer Michael Kluckner's images on line. I loved their witty delicacy and their beautiful use of color and composition. One of them shows his wife sitting on a hotel balcony in the sun—that frank and open light of Southern France. A wine bottle occupies a spot near the center—I especially liked that detail.

After friendly negotiations, I obtained Michael's permission to use the image ("Christine at the Hotel Provençal"), and it makes a gorgeous book cover. Later, my husband Peter Czap and I met Michael and his wife Christine Allen (an expert writer on roses) in Vancouver for drinks and conversation, and viewed Michael's exhibit in a gallery. The talk could have lasted much longer. Since then I've discovered how prolific he is, illustrating the couple's years on a farm in a book called The Pullet Surprise: A Year on an Urban Farm.

Michael's website is full of riches, both verbal and painterly. He and Christine now live in Vancouver, after some years in Sydney, Australia.

http://www.michaelkluckner.com/me.html

 

BARRY MOSEREmily Dickinson Engraving by Barry Moser

Barry Moser has illustrated most of the books that count, including The Bible, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Frankenstein, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Bhagavad-Gita, and dozens more. In 1998 I asked him for permission to use a portion of his illustration included in a book of creation myths ("The Ocean," 1988) for my third book, The Undertow. God bless him, he said yes, if I would host a dinner party for him. I did, and lo, it was good, and lots of fun.

He calls himself a "booksmith," but he did a turn as a preacher, and he could also be called a storyteller, a jokester, and one of the funniest men on the planet. Read his interview with Anna Olswanger at olswanger.com, where, among many other wise and frisky things, he says "'Artist' is a title. It's like being called, 'lord' or 'baron….'  The only time I use 'artist' is when I have been drinking too much, or when my accountant uses it on my income tax return."

Go feast on his words and images at moser-pennyroyal.com.

 

ERNEST URVATER

Can you believe that a former physics professor would become a wonderful film-maker? Ernie Urvater is one of those. He has made films about politics, artists, the environment, and other timely issues.

In early 2009, Ernie and his wife, journalist, writer, and fellow Museum guide Terry Allen, asked me to take a crack at writing a film script for the Dickinson Museum. Terry, as always, had about 50 ideas for this, and I chose among them to begin something I'd never done before.

I'll be forever grateful to Terry and Ernie for making this request. Writing "Seeing New Englandly" gave me the happiest time writing I have ever had (until starting my novel, Jumbo and Phil. ) I knew squat about film-making, but luckily Ernie was a true professional, and with Terry's help, we produced a film the audience loved. Ernie found talented artists, musicians, and technical experts from all over this valley. We've shown the films at libraries, schools, alumni gatherings at Amherst College, home audiences, and Museum events. We love the Q & A periods afterwards, when people ask us wild questions about Dickinson's family, her love life, and everything else.

The next project, "My Business is to Sing," based on Carolyn Cooley's fine book, The Music of Emily Dickinson's Poems and Letters, was commissioned by the Museum in 2011, and proved to be even harder to do than the first film. Still, it has gratified audiences who are interested in the poet's musical education and experience—much more diverse than many Dickinson readers suspect. Early in the poet's life, she began to experiment with "the moosic."

Check out the films and other goodies at sawmillriver.com.

 

ELIZABETH POLS

Emily Dickinson by Elizabeth PolsAn especially lucky event for me and my co-producer Ernest Urvater was Liz Pols's offering beautiful images for the DVDs of two films I wrote and narrated, directed by Ernest Urvater: "Seeing New Englandly" (2010) and "My Business is to Sing" (2012), for the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst.

Pols's images capture the contemplative light we often see in Amherst at fade of day, and blend that light with the elegiac beauty of Venice, where Liz spent much time in her earlier years. Dickinson never saw Venice, but she inhabited the landscapes she beheld from her large windows with her whole mind and heart. Liz's way of seeing, like the poet's, is a way of thinking.

When Ernie Urvater was working on "My Business is to Sing," with me as a dithering, hopeful assistant, we spent an afternoon with Liz Pols in Dickinson's Homestead, photographing and filming a young woman named Emily Hunt (a poet, with red hair and a slender frame), mimicking Emily Dickinson at the piano. The untuneable Homestead "square piano" thrummed excruciating notes for over an hour. Emily Hunt bravely went on, and Liz and Ernie captured beautiful images.

 

Museums

THE COUNTRY MUSIC HALL OF FAME & MUSEUM

My brother, John Rumble, has worked for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum for many years. He is their Senior Historian, which means that he writes everything from exhibit copy, to talks on musicians, composers, arrangers, and performers. He has studied country music and its history for years, and knows how to elicit fascinating stories from people in its world. The building itself offers a treasure-trove of exhibits—the current ones are on Reba McIntire, "Country Music's Renaissance woman," an exhibit on "California Country: the Bakersfield Sound" (Merle Haggard, Buck Owens), and "Sing Me Back Home: A Journey through Country Music." The Museum has Elvis Presley's gold Cadillac—with a tiny black-and-white TV! Nashville has other feasts for the eyes and ears, like an enormous statue of Aphrodite that will make your eyes bug out. Any visitor feeling a wee bit low should spend several hours there, listening to songs, even singing along. It's a sure cure for all forms of blues.

 

THE POETRY CENTER AT SMITH COLLEGE

Begun in 1997, the Poetry Center at Smith College grew out of then president Ruth Simmons's charge to "Dream big dreams!" Lecturer and poet Annie Boutelle, first director Elizabeth Alexander, and current director Ellen Dore Watson have helped the dreams grow. The Center hosts an impressive reading series, featuring a diverse array of poets (Seamus Heaney, Billy Collins, Louise Gluck, Chase Twichell, Naomi Shihab Nye, Mark Doty, Sharon Olds, and many others). Many of the readings inspire large audiences from Western Massachusetts colleges, communities, and neighboring states in New England.

The Poetry Center Room in Wright Hall offers a quiet place to read from its shelves of slim volumes and journals. The Center offers an annual Poetry Prize for high school girls, and creative writing workshops for incarcerated and recently-released women from the Hampden County House of Corrections and Hampshire County Jail.

The "big dreams" have encouraged voices of astonishing variety.

 

THE EMILY DICKINSON MUSEUM

The Emily Dickinson Museum in AmherstI have often been asked when I became interested in Emily Dickinson. It happened too long ago to remember a single, blinding revelation. I didn't sit up in bed in the middle of the night, muttering, "I'm Nobody. Who are You?" to a wispy white spectre drifting in my bedroom.

When I was a child, my mother read to me. I learned to read early, but I loved being read to, and she loved poetry. Probably I first heard a Dickinson poem-was it "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass?" from an anthology of children's poems. Something about her language, its intensity, its quickness, skirled into my head, and has remained there ever since.

In 2008, after I retired from Amherst College, I began a long-cherished dream of training to become a guide at the EDM. The training, directed by Cindy Dickinson, Director of Interpretation and Programming, exposed me to a way of running an institution that I had sorely missed.  Friendly support, expertise, tact, and humor have made Cindy a superb mentor to the guides. We are also encouraged to ask the Executive Director, Jane Wald, for her expert advice about the vast, complex material culture of the Museum. Jane directed the Martha Dickinson Bianchi Trust, which managed Austin's house the Evergreens: a fascinating place, filled with stunning works of art (Austin was a collector), and with heart-rending stories of love and loss.

My friends among the guides feel like friends I've had for decades, although I met many of them only recently, in 2008. We trade stories of our adventures with challenging visitors, and more often, visitors who shed tears in Emily's bedroom, or read her poems aloud with passion and respect. We debate the merits of recent publications, or discuss favorite poems. Underneath our talk is our sense that Emily Dickinson is unpredictable and fathomless. "What mystery pervades a well!" as she wrote.

During the past five years, I have often felt as I imagine a happy lamb feels, frisking in clover meadows. All-too-persuaded at times by my own opinions, I may roll around in the clover and flatten it, but up it springs again, proving that Emily Dickinson—her life, her work—are inextinguishable sources of learning and delight.

 

Fun

JIM ASHER, DICKINSON ORGANIZATION OF POETRY ENTHUSIASTS

Jim Asher's hilarious website about "Emily Dickinson's third cousin twice removed—at her request."

Emmett Lee Dickinson Museum

 

Share/Save/Bookmark