American Poet: Who Was Emily Dickinson?

Hello, our names are Jason, Heather, and Jayson, and we are making this blog to give student perspectives on this year's Big Read event, hosted by SUNY Fredonia and The Chautauqua Cattaraugus Library System. Our goal is to provide information about the Big Read events taking place March 8th - April 30th. The Big Read is designed to increase literacy throughout the United States, and to educate about a certain author. This years focus will be the American Poet, Emily Dickinson. Please come join us in learning about this author while having a lot of fun along the way!


Randy Gadikian, left, Christina Rausa, center, Virginia Horvath, right.

Last night’s performance of William Luce’s “Belle of Amherst” at the presidents house was fantastic. The one woman play was funny, witty, and entertaining. Christina Rausa did a wonderful job of keeping the audience engaged and laughing, while presenting the full range of Emily Dickinson’s complex personality.The house made for an intimate setting. Three rows of chairs were wrapped around the fireplace and there was no stage separating Rausa from the audience.

Organizers of the play explained that Emily Dickinson continues to be an “enigma” in American literature. In respect to this year’s Big Read author, Emily Dickinson, they felt it was appropriate to stage a play which coincided the works of Emily Dickinson, while also shedding light on her life.

The show was a celebration of the author’s life while still managing to be incredibly captivating and at times heartbreaking. All of Emily’s greatest conflicts where present in the play, young love, the difficulty getting published, her relationship with the church, and lastly death.  

Audience members left both with smiles on their faces but also with a great deal of knowledge and insight into the life of Emily Dickinson.This was because the show was not just entertaining but it was also educational. 

If you have missed the many performances of the play this Big Read season, be sure to catch Jamestown Community College’s final two performances April 23rd and 24th.It’s a show you won’t want to miss. 

- Jayson

The Big Read and Farman Free Library will be hosting a poetry slam! A poetry slam is a competition for poets to show their art and a chance to meet a community of poetry lovers. Farman Free Library is in Ellington. Brandon Williamson, who was the MC at the Prendergast Library, will be the MC for this event. Brandon is the founder of Pure Ink Poetry Slam of Buffalo. He is a published poet and a graduate from our SUNY Fredonia! We had a great event and turn out in Jamestown and hope to see the same energy and familiar faces at Ellington!

Farman Free Library is in Ellington, NY at760 Thornton Rd., Ellington, NY 14732. The poetry slam will take place Thursday, April 17, 2014 at 6PM-7:30PM. Come join us to hear great poetry or perform your own and the poetry of the famous Emily Dickinson.

The Rules: Each poet will present two poems, one by Emily Dickinson, one original work. Poets have 3 minutes in which to present a poem. Poems are judged on a 10.0 point scale by 5 randomly selected judges. The highest and lowest scores are dropped. The middle scores serve as the final score for the poem. Costumes and special effects are not permitted in poetry slams. First and second place prizes will be awarded for the highest combined scores. **It is suggested that participants should be at least 14 years of age.


The Belle of Amherst is a one-woman play inspired by the letters, poems, and diaries of Emily Dickinson. This unique look into the life of America’s most widely read female poet was written by William Luce, and is performed by the actress Christina Rausa. I look forward to seeing this play about Emily Dickinson, who was never famous and had only a few published poems during her life. This play is said to give new appreciation to Emily Dickinson, even to those who are familiar with her work. The play will be followed by a reception with time to speak with the artist.

The play will be performed three times.

The first showing will be at 7:30-8:30 on April 16, 2014 at the President’s Residence, 194 Central Avenue, Fredonia, NY 14063. This event is by reservation, since there are a limited number of seats. To reserve a ticket, Email:, or call 518-779-0504.

The second showing will be on Wed, April 23rd, 2014 at JCC in Jamestown. The show will be held at 7PM – 9PM in the wonderful Scharmann Theatre 525 Falconer Street Jamestown, NY 14701.

The third showing will be on Thursday, April 24, 2014 at JCC on the Cattaraugus County Campus— Cutco Theatre, 260 N. Union Street, Olean, NY 14760. The play will be 7PM-9PM.


A few Saturdays ago was “An Afternoon of Poetry: From Her Words to Yours,” hosted by the Dunkirk Free Library. Jayson took some great photos of participant generated poems and even included the transcript of his own poem inspired by Emily Dickinson’s writing techniques and the seasons.

Personally I found the most enlightening aspect of the discussion to be hearing different, but just as valid, interpretations of the different poems by Dickinson included in the booklet, “The Poetry of Emily Dickinson.” We were able to take a poem like ‘“Why do I love” You, Sir?’ and dissect it word by word. While some thought this poem suggested a secret male lover of Dickinson, others thought the poem took on a more religious meaning. Support for this was given by the capitalization of “He,” and the knowledge that Emily Dickinson had a religious background. Neither side was vicious towards the opposing views but rather everyone worked together to try and generate support for all arguments. 

Another valuable aspect of this event was the experience of hearing different individuals read Dickinson’s poems out loud. With the different readings, where there is different pacing and emphasis on certain words and inflection, you can have a-ha! moments where the pieces start to come together. It’s not always enough to silently read a poem, sometimes it needs to be spoken out loud for it to really come to life.



Students in ENGL 332, Romanticism in American Literature, researched archives of Emily Dickinson’s original manuscripts, which are digitized and accessible on the internet.

They designed these posters to exhibit selections of incredible hand-written letters, poems, and even dried flowers from Dickinson’s own collection.

Working with Dickinson’s manuscripts brings to life her poetic process and her life story in exciting ways. These posters are designed to share glimpses into the remarkable life and legacy of a great poet.

This exhibit is available for viewing in the Friends of Reed Library Lounge, which is directly across from the main entrance to the library (Reed Library hours). All are welcome to come take a look at these great posters, whether you are a student of SUNY Fredonia or just an interested member of the surrounding community.

Dr. Emily VanDette’s students did a fantastic job pulling from the archives to assemble these varying posters. Focuses vary from the different word choices Emily Dickinson struggled with to her love of flowers and nature to the content of the letters that she shared with numerous friends.

Hopefully reading these posters will provide a spark of new interest in Emily Dickinson and her fascinating life!


One thing that I have found surprising, and that I’ve quite enjoyed this Big Read season, is the food of Emily Dickinson. Many of the organizers go out of their way to provide baked goods prepared with Emily’s very own recipes. What better way to feel connected with a person, and their time, then by their food. Food says so much.

If you’ve enjoyed some of these baked goods provided near the coffee tables at this years events, the this post is for you.

Below is a recipe for Emily’s very own ginger bread along with some added links of a couple of other recipes. Enjoy!

Emily Dickinson’s Gingerbread

As transcribed in Emily Dickinson: Profile of the Poet as Cook from Dickinson’s original manuscript:

1 quart flour
½ cup butter
½ cup cream
1 tablespoon ginger
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon salt
Make up with molasses

“Cream the butter and mix with lightly whipped cream. Sift dry ingredients together and combine with other ingredients. The dough is stiff and needs to be pressed into whatever pan you choose. A round or small square pan is suitable. The recipe also fits perfectly into a cast iron muffin pan, if you happen to have one which makes oval cakes. Bake at 350°F for 20-25 minutes.”

(Emily Dickinson Museum)

Coconut Cake

Ginger Bread

Black Cake

- Jayson

"This audio documentary was engineered, written and produced by Jason Paton and Andrew Tomidy for The Big Read program, hosted locally by Reed Library.

Interviews by Andrew Tomidy

Editing and mixing by Jason Paton

Narration by Mr. Vincent Quatroche

Other participants include-

Expert Analysis:
Emily Vandette
Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Virginia Horvath

Poetry Readings:
Emily Vandette
Aimee Nezhukumatathi
Terry Brown
Melissa Mallaber
Dawn Eckenroade
Virginia Horvath

Musical Contributions:
Piano: Lily Chang
Guitar: Andrew Tomidy
Percussion: Charles Tyrie

All audio recorded between September, 2013 and March, 2014. No samples were borrowed in the production of this documentary.

Special thanks to Randy Gadikian, Laura Johnson, Vince Quatroche, Sarah Peace and coffee.”

Available for your listening pleasure is “A Little Madness in the Spring: The Life and Work of Emily Dickinson” which is supplied by Fredonia Radio. If you give it a listen we would love to hear what you think!


Last night, in Olean, NY, Dr. Martha Werner held a presentation at the Olean Public Library. Dr. Martha is a Professor at the University of D’Youville College in Buffalo. She has published many books and received the Bowers Prize and the JoAnn Boydson Prize for her work.

When I went to this event I thought of an archivist as someone who is very analytical, technical, and dry. What I heard was a woman that had been touched by Emily Dickinson. Her presentation was anything but dry. Her 30 minute presentation was filled with metaphor and descriptive imagery. We learned of the letters Emily wrote to her family and friends. These personal, and beautiful, letters carried by the postal service, and friends. Some were addressed, stamped, but never sent. The mysteries of these letters and writings are the interests of many Archivists.

Although she spoke of her work with the envelope poems and letters (how Emily wrote almost 1800 poems, but originally there were upward of 3500 manuscripts), and the attempts scholars have made to understand Emily, she did so as a poetic archivist. She showed what impact Emily has had on her, her career, and her life.

There were 20 people at the presentation, and all agreed that the presentation was a poetic and informative success. I was fascinated to see how Emily’s works had changed and impacted another woman’s life to such depth.

Over the weekend I was able to have an online chat with Caeli Faisst, the Script Writer of Echoes of Emily, and a sophomore at SUNY Fredonia. I wanted to only ask her a few questions, considering she is probably very busy.

Question:  How did you get onto this project, and what made you want to write about Emily

Caeli: I was discussing my interest in script writing with my adviser when he asked if I knew
 anything about Emily Dickinson. I said I did and he asked if I would be interested in
  helping out with the Big Read. 

Question: What did you find to be the most challenging aspect of creating this play?

Caeli: The most challenging part of writing the script was trying to find the “voice”, if you will, of the characters. Knowing who the actors were ahead of time helped in that area, but it  was still very frustrating to figure out the dialogue that would occur.

Question: Was there anything exceptionally unique that you learned about Emily throughout your
 research and writing? Something that has impacted you and your view of Emily?

Caeli: Before this project, my concept of Dickinson was an eccentric spinster that wrote quirky poetry and wore white all the time. However, while doing research, specifically when reading her letters, I learned that Dickinson was actually a very talkative person around her friends, and surprisingly, a lover of pranks. That specifically enabled me to understand Emily Dickinson’s writing much more, giving me a better sense of her character. It made her seem human.


Tonight is another great opportunity to show your poetic talents! SUNY Fredonia is hosting an Emily Dickinson Poetry Slam in the Tower Lounge of SUNY Fredonia’s Reed Library from 8— 9:30pm. All are welcome, and as with the last Slam, each contestant is required to perform two poems. One poem to be performed must be an Emily Dickinson poem, the second must be an original poem written by the poets themselves.

The competition is judged by 3 randomly assigned judges who will score on a 10 point scale. The lowest and highest score will be dropped and the remaining number is the score for that performance. This event is a competition, but it is also a time to appreciate and hear the poetry of Emily Dickinson and other poets! Come join us for a fun evening full of poetry and excitement!


This past weekend we had the chance to view a wonderful play written by a sophomore at SUNY Fredonia! The play was a story about the struggles of high school and life for a teenage girl named Emily Norcross. As she struggled with the issues of young love and social awkwardness, Emily was inspired by her teacher, Ms. Todd, and the echoing voice of Emily Dickinson as her inner poetic voice.

Just as Emily in Song drew Dickinson’s emotions from the page, so Echoes of Emily brought to life Emily Dickinson’s personality. This play showed how she still relates to older generations, as Ms. Todd, and younger generations like Emily Norcross. I would strongly recommend this play to any that are interested in seeing and hearing great traditional love stories with a new and creative approach.

Echoes of Emily can be seen again at the Reg Lenna Civic Center in Jamestown. It will be performed on April 3rd beginning at 10:00am – 11:30am. I strongly urge any that can attend to do so, it is a story worth hearing and an amazing performance worth seeing.


Poems on Envelopes from Saturday’s “An Afternon of Poetry: From Her Words to Yours.”

Yesterday’s Big Red Event at the Dunkirk Free Library was wonderful. Directed by SUNY Fredonia professors Rebecca Schwab and Heather McEntarfer, the event was interactive and discussion based. All of the attendees (a circle of thirteen) carefully reflected and shared their feelings about the complex and intriguing works of Emily Dickinson. The discussion was lively and not a single individual went unheard by the end of the event. 

The photos above were the result of a fun writing exercise. The aim was to produce a poem on an envelope slip, as Emily often did, and insert dashes and capitals where we saw fit. The focus was the changing seasons and nature.

In the end we each produced a poem in homage to Emily Dickinson. Below is a transcript of my very own Dickinson-esque poem.

The Changing Seasons

The Changing seasons -
Always - seem to Remind me - or
Take me back to thinking about
The World in a Cyclical way -
Outside of Birth - or
Death - or rather Within it -

Within the pulse of the ever changing
Flow of the erratic and shifting world - Away -
From the Beginning - Middle - and End -
Of Birth - Life - and Death -

I don’t ever want to try to control it
Or hold Still - When the Snow first falls
In October or when the Beach gets
Just hot enough to Swim in around June -
Or on the first day of spring or Over the 
Crunching leaves of Autumn

I keep it all moving
Weighing it - in - and - out
From hand to hand
Until my breaths finally are
within it


- Jayson

If you’re interested in finding out more about Emily Dickinson’s poetry and life and have thirty minutes to lend your ears then you should tune in from 5:00pm till 5:30pm at WCVF The Voice (88.9FM), or online at, to hear the documentary “A Little Madness in The Spring: The Life and Work of The New England Mystic.” Including both expert interviews as well as dramatic readings, it is sure to be an exciting and enlightening listen.


UPDATE: The documentary will be airing at 6:00pm today instead of 5:00pm. So if you tried to tune in and just heard jazz, stick around for a little while longer.

Today, Saturday the 29th of March, is “An Afternoon of Poetry: From Her Words to Yours” at the Dunkirk Free Library. Located at 536 Central Ave in Dunkirk, this event will begin at 1 pm and should run about an hour. Starting off this event will be some readings of Emily Dickinson’s poetry, which will then be followed by an interactive workshop where participants will have the opportunity to write and work with their own poetry.

If you have a longstanding love for poetry or have always wanted to write your own but haven’t gotten around to it, then this is a great opportunity for you to take a dip into this form of writing. We hope to see you there!


Those who attended Doodles with Dickinson at Ahira Hall Memorial Library had a great time Wednesday night turning Emily Dickinson’s poetry into a visual representation.

The evening started out with readings of some poems suggested by both the students running this event and the participants. “A little Madness in the Spring” and “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” were both among the poems selected. After some enlightening discussion on the meaning behind Dickinson’s wording, and the messages she was trying to convey, the crowd moved on to an activity where they were tasked with turning inspiration into something visual. It was amazing to see how many different ways a single poems of only a few lines could be interpreted. Although there was a wide range of ages in attendance everyone seemed able to relate to Emily Dickinson’s works in their own personal way. Personally I think this is a large part of the reasoning as to why Dickinson’s writing has remained popular and current after so much time. Her work has a timeless quality to it and lends itself to be expressed through many outlets, whether it be through drawing or even song.