Excelsior Salon - Maid as Muse - October 27th

In Maid as Muse, Aife Murray explodes the myth of the isolated genius and presents an intimate, densely realized story of joined lives between Emily Dickinson and her domestic servants. Part scholarly study, part detective story, part personal journey, Murray's book uncovers a world previously unknown: an influential world of Irish immigrant servants and an ethnically rich one of Yankee, English-immigrant, Native American, and African American maids and laborers, seamstresses and stablemen. Murray reveals how Irish immigrant Margaret Maher and the other servants influenced the cultural outlook, fashion, artistic subject, and even poetic style of Emily Dickinson.

Local scholar and author Aife Murray says Maid as Muse came about because of a visit to the Library. She recalls "I was standing in this reading room of the main library in San Francisco one afternoon wondering how Emily Dickinson – prize-winning baker and astonishing poet – managed to turn out so many poems (and breads and cakes). 'Did she have help?' I asked myself. I pulled a popular Dickinson biography from the shelves situated in the far back of the reading room. The book naturally opened at a photographic plate labeled 'the Dickinson domestics, circa 1870.' Three Irish faces stared out just as the photographer depressed the bulb. He let a little light leak into the studio so that a side of Margaret Maher’s beautiful face is bleached out. The man in the center looked a lot like my grandfather.... Seeing that image changed my life."

Join us for an exciting reading and discussion of this below-stairs, bottom-up portrait of the artist and her family. The kitchen pantry where Dickinson spent a good portion of each day was headquarters for people mostly lost from the public record - and it was her interactions with them that changed and helped define who Emily Dickinson was as a person and a poet.

Wednesday, October 27th @ 7 p.m.

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