Emily Dickinson birthday bash in Tucson

"The Big Read" events include poetry readings, a dance show, and recipes, all inspired by the work of Emily Dickinson.

Emily Dickinson's work is inspiring a dance show, recipes and new works by local writers in Tucson, Ariz.

Emily Dickinson, the famously reclusive poet, would probably be overwhelmed by all this attention.

Kore Press, which publishes works by female authors, created "Big Read Tucson" in association with "The Big Read," a program by the National Endowment for the Arts that encourages reading for all ages. "Big Read Tucson," which focuses on Dickinson's work, started on Sept. 22. It will conclude on Dec. 10, the poet’s birthday, with a party to celebrate the Massachusetts poet. 

Events and activities include poems by Dickinson appearing on the city’s Sun Tran buses as well as being projected onto buildings; workshops that interpret Dickinson’s poems as slam poetry; a dance show that is inspired by her work; and recording sessions in which participants can record themselves reading her poems and letters. Local artists and students are creating portraits of Dickinson, libraries will feature workshops and discussions based around the poet’s work, even as chefs at local restaurants are making dishes inspired by the reclusive writer.

It's all about finding new ways to celebrate the life and work of a great author. “You don't want to put somebody up on a pedestal and pay homage,” Lisa Bowden, co-founder of Kore Press and organizer of "Big Read Tucson," said of the unusual events in an interview with NPR. “That's not very interesting.”

The recordings of Tucson residents or visitors reading Dickinson’s works will be played in coffee houses and restaurants, and a hotline created for the celebration enables enthusiasts to call or text about work they’ve done that was inspired by the poet. The work is posted on the website for the event.

Devon Sanner, chef de cuisine at Janos Restaurant, made bread pudding with currants and raisins with cassis ice cream and sugar glass after being inspired by one of Dickinson’s poems which discusses glass as well as bread and berries, according to the NPR article.

“I'm geeked out,” he told NPR. “It's very exciting to ... take my small part in this project.”

"The Big Read" was inspired by reports by the National Endowment for the Arts that said reading rates in America were decreasing. The program encourages communities to focus on a single book for one month and host events that enable citizens to discuss and celebrate the work of literature.

Other events still to come in Tucson include Dickinson-inspired field trips for students, Dickinson readings at city council meetings, and the birthday party which will close out the celebration.

Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.

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