Writing in Time: Emily Dickinson Today

Watch author Marta Werner in conversation with Mike Kelly, Head of Archives and Special Collections at Amherst College, and Jane Wald, Executive Director of the Emily Dickinson Museum

writing in time event

On May 25, 2021, Marta Werner, author of Writing in Time: Emily Dickinson's Master Hours and Mike Kelly, Head of Archives and Special Collections at Amherst College, joined Jane Wald, Executive Director of the Emily Dickinson Museum, in conversation to discuss Emily Dickinson’s “Master letters.” Contrary to common belief, Werner explains that, in her opinion, these letters were actually not letters at all. Though the addressee, Dickinson’s so-called “master,” has been contested for years (and narrowed down to twelve candidates), Werner believes that, rather than address a single individual, Dickinson may have instead chosen to toy with the genre of the epistolary in the same manner that she fluctuated between prose and poetry throughout these documents.

These letters remained in Dickinson's personal archive from the spring of 1858 until her death in 1886, showing that perhaps they were not intended for the public eye, or even the eyes of an individual. In fact, many of them have no addressee and are not in the letter format at all, leaving them for us to grapple with and interpret. And perhaps this is the most notable impact of all. Dickinson does not make the job easier for us, maybe because it is not meant to be. Dickinson’s “letters” are purposefully complex. In them, she bends genres, refusing to be constrained to one or the other; she defies the constraints of binaries and divisions that our society so often imposes.

Werner’s analysis shows the power of this in between, that space which exists in the gray between genre and time and locality. As she tells us in her talk, “archival work is devotional, it’s love’s work; it builds our capacity to engage with Dickinson’s text world even though we know she will never write back.” As Kelly notes, we at Amherst College Press only have the privilege of sharing this piece of private scholarship with you all to have in conversation, as we all work through the mysteries of these documents.

- Angel Musyimi ('23)

To watch Marta Werner, Mike Kelly, and Jane Wald in conversation, please visit the following: https://www.youtube.com/watch?​v=KcBXKbg0UhM

This event was generously sponsored by Amherst College Parent and Alumni Programs; our thanks to Kim Roeder, Alina Basilone, and Roberta Diehl.