Last week I got out of the city and visited, among other places, Amherst, Massachusetts and the Emily Dickinson Museum. I’ve always loved visiting museums made of authors’ homes, partly because of the great variation in the level of preservation, the number of artifacts, and (frankly) the sense that the author in question would have approved of tourists traipsing through their private space. (To date, perhaps my favorite of these museums has been Alexander Pushkin’s in St. Petersburg, which I wrote about—sort of—for CutBank Online last year.)
The Dickinson museum is excellent, consisting of her homestead and her brother’s house (separated by a short footpath), as well as gardens and grounds. I can’t imagine that Dickinson would have approved of having so many visitors poking into her rooms, any more than she might have approved of many of her poems being published after her death--but as with the poems, it’s lovely to have the opportunity anyway. It’s easy to imagine Dickinson ghosting through the rooms of the homestead, particularly the many-windowed bedroom in which she closeted herself in later life. Her brother Austin’s house, The Evergreens, is arrestingly preserved almost exactly as he left it, the result of lack of funds to remodel as much as commitment to historical accuracy.
If you’re in the Amherst area, now or ever, I recommend a visit to the Dickinson Museum. If you’re in New York City, I recommend the reading series I attended the day I returned from Massachusetts—Fantastic Fiction at KGB, one of many great literary series at KGB Bar on East 4th Street. I heard A. C. Wise and N. K. Jemisin read, holding my drink tight to my chest in a bar packed to standing room only with enthusiastic listeners.
Still having in mind Emily Dickinson’s relatively shuttered and solitary life of blossoming ideas, standing in a subway-at-rush-hour level crush of people just as excited about literature as Dickinson herself was—all to hear Jemisin read a speculative story about the City as a personified entity, gaining sentient life from its population and energy—I was struck by the infinite diversity of ways to be a writer and to care about writing. There’s a lot of talk and advice on the “best way” to live a literary life, whether that means being in the thick of “the industry” in New York or eschewing the distracting flashbulbs for a rural writer’s retreat or, or, or. There’s no real right way, though, or at least not only one. Maybe that’s why we so love touring writers’ homes, and hearing them read in person; we’re always on the hunt for the writer’s life that rings most true, struck against our own.