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Suzan-Lori Parks '85 Receives MacArthur "Genius Grant"

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Front-Page News


Nota Bene

October 26, 2001

Dwelling on Emily Dickinson's Possibilities at MHC This Fall

Although Emily Dickinson has not set foot on the MHC campus in more than 150 years, her presence is still strongly felt at the College and throughout the world through her words--which are very much alive and well. The poet and her poetry will be felt more strongly still during a series of Dickinson-related activities at Mount Holyoke this fall.

During another fall, in 1847, Dickinson began study at the College, then called Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. The next year, she returned to her family's home in Amherst, where she settled into a life of contemplation and writing, creating more than 1,700 poems before her death in 1886.

MHC English professor Christopher Benfey, author of Emily Dickinson: Lives of a Poet (1986) and Emily Dickinson and the Problem of Others (1984), is among the many scholars who have become fascinated with the enigmatic Dickinson. This month, the University Press of New England released The Dickinsons of Amherst, which includes three essays on Dickinson, one by Benfey, and photographs by master documentary photographer Jerome Liebling.

CANCELLED: Patience for the Harvest, a dramatic portrayal of Emily Dickinson and nineteenth-century opera singer Jenny Lind, scheduled for November 1 has been cancelled due to actress Jill Clayburgh's illness. The event will be rescheduled.  

Himself a resident of Amherst, Liebling was first drawn to Dickinson's home, and he later had the opportunity to document the Evergreens, the poet's brother's house next door which was closed to the public until recently. Together, the essays and photographs reveal the history and legacy of the Dickinson homes, which were the setting for the family and friends who shaped Dickinson's life. "You might say that the three essays are extended captions, taking their prompting and provocation from the images," said Benfey, whose writing offers appreciation of Liebling's photographs and insight into the light they shed on Dickinson and her work.

To celebrate the publication of The Dickinsons of Amherst, the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum's newly renovated lobby is featuring an exhibition of Liebling's photos through December 16. An opening reception for the exhibition will be held November 1, from 4 to 6 pm. For twenty years, Liebling has chronicled aspects of the Dickinson homes. During the 1980s, he took black-andwhite photographs of the homestead; ten years later, he took vivid color images of the Evergreens, capturing what Benfey has called "the invisible world . . . things hidden from the unaided human eye."

Because Emily Dickinson avoided the camera, we know of her appearance only from a single daguerreotype (pictured above), taken the same year that she attended MHC. In response to a request for a picture, she wrote to Thomas Higginson: "Could you believe me without? I had no portrait, now, but am small, like the Wren, and my Hair is bold, like the Chestnut Bur and my eyes, like the Sherry in the Glass, that the Guest leaves. Would this do just as well?" Though Dickinson almost entirely succeeded in eluding the photographers of her day, she has not escaped the insight revealed through Liebling's lens.

On November 1, a screening of the PBS documentary A Loaded Gun: Life and Times of Emily Dickinson, with director Jim Wolpaw, will reveal more about Dickinson. An open-mike event, featuring student writing inspired by Emily Dickinson's poetry is also planned. Those creative responses are being created this semester in a class taught by Mary Jo Salter, Emily Dickinson Senior Lecturer in the Humanities.

Theatre students enrolled in Directing Emily Dickinson are also honoring the poet this fall by developing dance and installation projects inspired by her work. The works have been created in cooperation with the art, dance, and English departments and will be performed and displayed across campus throughout November, beginning November 1. "When I saw white dresses [Dickinson's attire of choice] as an installation around Mary Lyon's grave last spring, I knew we had to do something outside," said Holger Teschke, visiting professor of theatre arts. "I hoped for an Indian summer so that we might use the campus itself for our set and scenery." Teschke, a native of Germany, fell in love with Dickinson's work in English, which in translation, he says, can lose its rhythm and its modern, vivid metaphor.

At the end of November, Teschke will present Emily's Night Out, a theatre piece featuring readings of letters and poems by Emily Dickinson. Two student actors, two student dancers, and a student pianist will perform the work November 27 in Abbey Chapel at 7:30 pm. Finally, on December 12, Teschke will host a collage of his theatre students' projects in Rooke Theatre. The performance will be "a belated birthday present" to Emily Dickinson, said Teschke. Dickinson's birthday is December 10.

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Copyright © 2001 Mount Holyoke College. This page created by Don St. John and maintained by Jennifer Adams. Last modified on November 8, 2001.

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