Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (December 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886) was an American poet. Born in Amherst, Massachusetts, to a successful family with strong community ties, she lived a mostly introverted and reclusive life. Most of her friendships were therefore carried out by correspondence.
Emily Dickinson couldn't find a secure faith or make a career of one. She graduated from Amherst Academy in 1847 and attended nearby Mount Holyoke Female Seminary for one year, returning home shaken by the attempts to persuade her to join the Congregational church.
In the early 1860s she underwent a profound psychological and emotional disturbance, which biographers have tried to connect with a tragic, unrequited love. There has yet to a conclusive answer to who the love was, but during the years 1862-66 she wrote more than a third of her total poems.
Emily Dickinson wrote nearly 1700 poems, though fewer than 10 were published in her lifetime. Her style, consisting of unorthodox phrasing, imagery, syntax, and capitalization, was considered too radical at the time she wrote. Her work has since become considered some of the greatest in American literature.
The first contemporary literary figure to become aware of her existence as a poet was clergyman and author Thomas Higginson. Although Higginson recognised her genius and became her lifelong correspondent and literary mentor, he advised her not to publish her work because of its violation of literary convention.
Higginson never spoke to Dickinson, but glimpsed her once through a doorway wearing white. White was the only color she wore in her later years.
Only recently did Dickinson's entire body of work become available. Thomas H. Johnson made her complete body of poems available in his 1955 edition, The Poems of Emily Dickinson.
Dickinson grew up in a household of politically active, dominant males. She complained in letters to friends about this. The Dickinson family tradition had prepared the poet for a life of political activity and public service, only to deny her that life because of her sex.
From 1858-1865 "Dickinson demonstrated seasonal changes in mood during the first four years of major productivity, followed by a sustained elevation of creative energy...during the second. They suggest, as supported by family history, a bipolar pattern previously described in creative artists."
More than a century after she died, new evidence came to light that Dickinson may have suffered from tuberculosis during her lifetime. Dr. Norbert Hirschhorn, after detailing her symptoms, writes, “…the effects such an experience may have had on her poetry have yet to be plumbed.”
The town of Amherst, where Dickinson lived, was plagued by tuberculosis. After she died and the town set to recording its history, they made no mention of tuberculosis, either to make the town look good or because they considered it unremarkable.