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These Fevered Days: Ten Pivotal Moments in the Making of Emily Dickinson
with Martha Ackmann
On August 3, 1845, young Emily Dickinson declared, “All things are ready”―and with this resolute statement, her life as a poet began. Despite spending her days almost entirely “at home” (the occupation listed on her death certificate), Dickinson’s interior world was extraordinary. She loved passionately, was hesitant about publication, embraced seclusion, and created 1,789 poems that she tucked into a dresser drawer.
In These Fevered Days, Martha Ackmann unravels the mysteries of Dickinson’s life through ten decisive episodes that distill her evolution as a poet. Ackmann follows Dickinson through her religious crisis while a student at Mount Holyoke, which prefigured her lifelong ambivalence toward organized religion and her deep, private spirituality. We see the poet through her exhilarating frenzy of composition, through which we come to understand her fiercely self-critical eye and her relationship with sister-in-law and first reader Susan Dickinson. Contrary to her reputation as a recluse, Dickinson makes the startling decision to ask a famous editor for advice, writes anguished letters to an unidentified “Master,” and keeps up a lifelong friendship with writer Helen Hunt Jackson. Toward the end of her life, she is seized with despair in confronting possible blindness.
Utilizing thousands of archival letters and poems as well as never-before-seen photos, These Fevered Days constructs a remarkable map of Emily Dickinson’s inner life. Together, these ten days provide new insights into her wildly original poetry and render a concise and vivid portrait of American literature’s most enigmatic figure.
Martha Ackmann is a journalist and author who writes about women who have changed America. Her essays and columns have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and the Los Angeles Times. She also is a frequent commentator for New England Public Radio, and has been featured on CNN, National Public Radio, and the BBC.
Martha’s award-winning books include The Mercury 13: The True Story of Thirteen Women and the Dream of Space Flight, Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone, First Woman to Play Professional Baseball in the Negro League, and the forthcoming These Fevered Days: Ten Pivotal Moments in the Making of Emily Dickinson. The Mercury 13 is in development for an Amazon mini-series and a theatrical adaptation of Curveball will premiere off-Broadway in 2019.
A long-time member of the Gender Studies Department at Mount Holyoke College, Martha taught a popular seminar on Emily Dickinson in the poet’s house in Amherst, Massachusetts. She now instructs teachers from across the country through programs including the New England Young Writers Conference and the National Endowment for the Humanities. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts. She lives in western Massachusetts.