Concord, Massachusetts

Two weeks of talks, readings, and discussions celebrating the written and the spoken word.

Brenda Wineapple

Events: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson & Thomas Wentworth Higginson

Book: White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson

Brenda Wineapple is the author of award winning biographies of Hawthorne, Genet, and Gertrude and Leo Stein. Her new book, White Heat:The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, is a radiant portrayal of one of the most remarkable friendships in American letters — between the elusive, original poet and the radical abolitionist, reformer, and writer whom we have to thank for the publication of Emily Dickinson’s poetry.

White Heat gives us new insight into the correspondence between these two wildly dissimilar personalities, a correspondence which lasted almost a quarter of a century and included nearly one hundred of Dickinson’s dazzling, unseen poems. We see how Higginson, in his dual role as friend and literary adviser, counseled Dickinson against publishing, suggesting that her poetry was too unconventional, defiant, and unpredictable. And we see how, after her death, he himself coedited the first editions of her poetry — changing her distinctive punctuation — and watched them become immediate bestsellers.

Emily Dickinson and Thomas Higginson met face-to-face only twice ("I never was with any one who drained my nerve power so much,” he said). but Wineapple makes clear that their friendship nonetheless throws a brilliant light both behind the hidden door of the poet’s nimble imagination and into a corner of the noisy century that she and Colonel Higginson shared.