December 10th — Born On This Day, Emily Dickinson and Me
A shared birthday, a life-long love for the written word.
I was an eager-to-learn first-grader at St. Jude Elementary School in Montgomery Alabama when I first became aware of the 19th Century poet, Emily Dickinson. Two of my older siblings, my resident babysitters were in junior high school at the time and very often, their nightly homework assignments became my bedtime stories. Drifting off to sleep as they studied and read aloud from textbooks with titles like “Prose and Poetry”, I soon became familiar with and began to memorize some of the poems being read to me.
Prior to entering Kindergarten and the first grade, I had been enrolled in Jimmie Lowes Nursery School, “pre-school” in the present vernacular, where my teacher happened to be my cousin. During my time there, she taught me to read at a very early age and shared her love of books as well as her admiration for writers. It was this cousin and teacher who revealed to me that I was born on Emily Dickinson’s birthday, and from that day on, I have been fascinated by her words as well as her strange life. I read voraciously and devoured everything I could find about her. During my childhood in Montgomery, living under the ominous shadow of Jim Crow laws, Negroes were not allowed access to public libraries. And although my parents and siblings were great readers and books were plentiful in our home, I longed for more details about Emily Dickinson’s motivation for her poems as well as her life of isolation. It wasn’t until my parents made the difficult decision to leave our home and family in Montgomery and join the Great Migration that a whole new world opened up for me. Life, as I knew it changed dramatically when our family settled on the West side of Detroit in the early 1950s. And on the day that we arrived in the big city, my older brother took me to the neighborhood public library, where I signed up for my first library card and checked out arm fulls of books. The majority being Emily Dickinson's volumes of poetry.
During childhood, I wrote prolifically. Rarely seen without pencil-in-hand, often dispersing little notes to family members and friends. Throughout high school, I dabbled in writing poetry occasionally, but I soon found my writing strengths in other genres.