Emily Dickinson engages Robert Frost in conversation in a sculpture west of the Evergreens. Photo: Art Keene

“A Few Questions For…”  is an occasional feature of The Indy, aimed at helping our readers get to know the folks who make things happen in our town. We’ll be featuring members of  town government and key town employees, along with civic leaders, activists, local educators, prominent volunteers, and residents who are not necessarily well-known. This week, we feature a conversation with Emily Lackey, the publicist at the Emily Dickinson Museum. 

The public image of Emily Dickinson is changing rapidly, from that of an unhinged recluse, to a cool individual. Two films this year reframe Dickinson’s personality and poetry. First came Wild Nights with Emily, which focused on Emily and her sister-in-law Susan Dickinson’s lifelong affair. Now there’s Dickinson (on Apple TV+), which brings her to life as a Millennial teenager, mixing contemporary music and attitude with period costumes and historic events.

These films are likely to give a big boost to the Emily Dickinson Museum’s efforts to introduce the poet to a diverse global audience.  It could be large enough for Amherst to see an influx of new fans, anxious to visit the museum and town.

Here, we ask a few questions for Emily Lackey, the museum’s publicist.

Amherst Indy: Have you been able to watch some of the new Apple TV+ series, Dickinson? What did you think of its presentation of Emily as a rebellious, feisty, ambitious, bisexual poet?

Emily Lackey: We’ve seen a good bit of the series so far. Emily certainly is assertive and ambitious [in it]!  Any work that draws inspiration from her life and generates interest in her poetry is always exciting for the museum, and we’re thrilled that there is so much emphasis on her poetic mind in this show.

How do you think it compares with other recent films about her, A Quiet Passion and Wild Nights with Emily?

Certainly the tone and style of the series and those two films are different, as are the interpretations … but the ongoing interest in Dickinson’s life speaks to the enduring nature of her poetic legacy. 

Forbes Magazine wrote that the Dickinson series “re-imagines the poet as a 2019 Millennial living in the 1850s.” Do you think “Millennial Emily” will transform Dickinson’s  fan base, and bring new faces to Amherst?

Certainly the series reaches out to a younger audience than our typical visitor, one that shows growing interest in poetry. We hope that more people visit the museum as a result of the series!

Did the museum help out with the creation of the series?

The show’s production team visited the museum to verify the accuracy of their sets, including the layout of the Homestead and Evergreens in the 19th century. They also contacted [us] throughout the production process to verify background information about the physical appearance of characters, their personal relationships, and the various domestic activities that took place.

Madeleine Olnek, who wrote and directed Wild Nights with Emily, recently gave a talk in Amherst. Do you think Hailee Steinfeld, who plays Emily, or Wiz Khalifa, who plays Death, might come too? Or creator Alena Smith? I hear that a second season is planned.

They’ve already visited, actually! The six leads, Hailee Steinfeld, Adrian Enscoe, Anna Baryshnikov, Jane Krakowski, Toby Huss, and Ella Hunt, have all made pilgrimages to Amherst to visit the Emily Dickinson Museum.

You’ve been introducing Emily Dickinson to a wide range of audiences with programs like Postcards to Emily, the annual tours of West Cemetery with “some of her most depressing poems,” the Tell It Slant Award, and marathon readings of all of her poems. Do you have any ideas about capitalizing on the surge in interest that’s probably coming?

Great question! Emily Dickinson’s work continues to spark the imagination of artists, poets, filmmakers, and creators… We’ve begun a year of planning to interpret the museum’s historic spaces and collections to better serve our growing contemporary audience [and] incorporate current scholarship, popular interests, and more inclusive methodologies into our already vibrant programming. Coupled with our plans for restoring the houses and grounds, we look forward introducing visitors and readers of all ages to Emily Dickinson’s enduring life and timeless poetry.

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