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Múten, Burleigh: "Miss Emily - “Our Laughing Goddess of Plenty” Writing About Dickinson to Capture Young Readers"

Miss Emily - “Our Laughing Goddess of Plenty”
Writing About Dickinson to Capture Young Readers

Burleigh Múten, The Common School, Amherst

Emily Dickinson was an extraordinary adult in the lives of the children who knew
her. She shared their fresh view of the world and their love of nature, and on occasion she participated in their games. Young children today respond with eager curiosity when they are introduced to the fact that Dickinson loved children.

Inspired by teaching Dickinson to children and by MacGregor Jenkins’ 1930 memoir, Emily Dickinson, Friend and Neighbor, children’s author Burleigh Mutén describes the importance of presenting Dickinson as a cherished ally of the children in her neighborhood.

This essay also explores the interplay among research, teaching, and writing that has become an interactive process for Mutén, whose forthcoming poetic narrative, MISS EMILY portrays a midnight escapade to greet the circus gypsies as they arrive in town by rail. In costume and in character, Miss Emily leads her niece and nephew and the pastor’s son in an adventure, based in fact and the author’s imagination. Lessons are learned, and Miss Emily displays her loyal commitment to the children.

By choosing to write MISS EMILY as a poetic narrative, a growing literary genre in children’s literature, Mutén offers the young reader a particularly approachable text that is surrounded by plenty of white space on the page. With its short lines and
pared-down language, a poetic narrative can provide the young reader with a memorable and successful reading experience, and an inviting introduction to Dickinson.

Burleigh Mutén is the author of several children’s books including MISS EMILY (Candlewick, 2014). She is the recipient of an NEH grant to develop curriculum for elementary school children about Dickinson’s Amherst, life, and poetry. Mutén teaches at The Common School in Amherst, Massachusetts and leads writing workshops for children throughout New England.