Emily Dickinson is not only one of the supreme lyric poets of American literature. She has also come to symbolize the purest kind of artistic vocation. Not merely unrecognized but virtually unpublished in her own lifetime, she developed her genius in the utmost privacy, invisible to all except a small circle of family and friends. Driven only by her own imagination, she created a body of work unsurpassed in its expressive originality, penetrating insight, and dark beauty.
The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts designed to revitalize the role of literary reading in American popular culture. Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America, a 2004 NEA report, identified a critical decline in reading for pleasure among American adults. The Big Read addresses this issue by bringing communities together to read, discuss, and celebrate books and writers from American and world literature.
In 2007, the National Endowment for the Arts partnered with the Poetry Foundation to create American Literary Landmarks, a pilot program of The Big Read that celebrated American poets and the historic sites associated with their lives and works. In 2009, poets Emily Dickinson, Robinson Jeffers, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow were officially added to The Big Read library.
Great literature combines enlightenment with enchantment. It awakens our imagination and enlarges our humanity. It can even offer harrowing insights that somehow console and comfort us. Whether you’re a regular reader already or a nonreader making up for lost time, thank you for joining The Big Read.
Emily Dickinson, age 16 (Courtesy of Amherst College Archives and Special Collections)
Dickinson's room (Courtesy of the Emily Dickinson Museum)
Thomas Wentworth Higginson (Library of Congress)