These Fevered Days

Title: These Fevered Days: Ten Pivotal Moments in the Making of Emily Dickinson
Published by: W. W. Norton & Company
Release Date: February 25, 2020
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The Story Behind These Fevered Days

I first encountered the poetry of Emily Dickinson when I was a junior at McCluer High School in suburban St. Louis. We read the poem, “After great pain a formal feeling comes.” To say I was a lucky teenager is an understatement: I had loving parents, a fun circle of friends, and an extended family that cared about me. At 16, I had not encountered “great pain.”

And yet that poem made a profound impression. While I did not completely understand it—perhaps even understand it all—it nevertheless registered on my mind. It hibernated there for years, perhaps waiting for the right time to present itself again, hovering over my consciousness like a ghost until I was old enough or had enough experience to understand.

From that moment on, Emily Dickinson has been a constant in my life. I went to graduate school in New England to study Dickinson, wrote a Ph.D. dissertation on the poet, became president of the Emily Dickinson International Society, and for over a decade, taught a Mount Holyoke College seminar in the very rooms where the poet wrote her remarkable verse.

It took me nearly a lifetime to figure out what kind of book I wanted to write on Emily Dickinson. Not surprisingly, my students showed me the way. When I was teaching my Dickinson seminar, I discovered students came alive when I wrapped the lesson around a single day in the poet’s life. Take for example February 6, 1848. Emily then was a young student at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (yes, the same institution that evolved into the college). In the 1840s, Mount Holyoke and other colleges across New England took religion seriously. The spiritual condition of a student’s soul was as important as her intellect. On that day in 1848, Emily went head-to-head over the question of faith with Mount Holyoke’s formidable founder, Mary Lyon. What Emily did (or did not do) during those 24 hours shaped her thinking for the rest of her life, and informed her poetry, too.

As I began to think about writing a book on Emily Dickinson, I recalled those times in the classroom when I focused the assignment on a pivotal day. It seemed a natural and engaging way for understanding Dickinson’s evolution as a poet. I also hoped a ten-day structure might offer readers a fresh framework for considering the shape of Dickinson’s life.

These Fevered Days Reviews

A “vivid, affectionate chronicle of Emily Dickinson that sheds new light on her groundbreaking poetry.”
The New Yorker

“Radiant prose, palpable descriptions, and deep empathy for the poet's sensibility make this biography extraordinary.”
Kirkus Review, Starred Review

“I quickly came to treasure Ackmann’s ample descriptions, her deep knowledge of the poet’s milieu. . . . [These Fevered Days is] thoroughly researched, and yet, with Ackmann's energetic storytelling, alive.”
Megan Marshall, New York Times Book Review

“Reads like page-turning fiction. . . .[A] wonderful biography that illustrates the complexity of Dickinson’s life.”
Elizabeth Lund, Christian Science Monitor

“Using an ingenious device to capture the whole of Emily Dickinson’s life by presenting it in ten distinct tableaux, Martha Ackmann illuminates the poet from her first word as a toddler, ‘music,’ to her final written ones, ‘called back.’ In These Fevered Days, the author describes a gift from Dickinson to a friend as ‘exquisite, tender, and intimate,’ words that aptly describe Ackmann’s latest triumph.”
—Madeleine Blais, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of To the New Owners

“Martha Ackmann’s These Fevered Days is a contemplative, sometimes lyrical effort to unlock several of the most important moments of Emily Dickinson’s mysterious life. The book brings readers deeply into Emily’s world: the sights she sees from the window of her room, the people with whom she corresponds, the sounds of daily life on the streets of nineteenth-century Amherst. Weaving together numerous sources…Ackmann’s narrative provides thoughtful insights into both the poet and her craft.”
—Julie Dobrow, author of After Emily

“For those intrigued by Emily Dickinson’s elusive interior life, gifted storyteller Martha Ackmann deciphers with fresh and compelling insights ten transformational moments in the development of the poet’s mind. These Fevered Days invites us into the experiences that led Dickinson to assert her ambitions as an artist and decisions as a poet with a vivid immediacy rare among biographical works.”
—Jane Wald, executive director, Emily Dickinson Museum

Radio Commentaries, Columns and Dickinson Links

NEPR Commentary

NEPR Commentary

NEPR Commentary

San Francisco Chronicle

Lowell Sun


Mount Holyoke Alumnae Quarterly (page 2)

Emily Dickinson Museum