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Rationale

Emily Dickinson’s Correspondences: A Born-Digital Textual Inquiry, a new critical edition of selected poems, letters, and letter-poems, focuses on the diversities of Emily Dickinson’s surviving written record and encourages innovation in interpretation, in reading, and in scholarly editorial practices. Published translations of Emily Dickinson’s manuscripts homogenize her various writings so that all letters appear to be of the same ilk, as do all poems. Editions that divide letters from poems and poems from letters elide important aspects of the positions of Dickinson’s poems within epistolary contexts and vice versa. Emily Dickinson blended or embedded poems into the prose in letters; wrote them on separate sheets and enclosed them with letters; wrote poems and sent them as letters, with salutation and signature. In other words, Dickinson’s poems are often part of letters, and poems are often letters or are contextualized by their mutual enclosure in an envelope with a letter. But these poems, letters, and letter-poems are difficult to comprehend when they are stripped from their original context. Emily Dickinson’s Correspondences: A Born-Digital Textual Inquiry is designed to expose readers to the different kinds of the poet’s writings and features views of every sort of variation the editors have located in the Dickinson corpus of surviving manuscript writings. By doing so, we hope to make it possible for more readers to engage in deeper, broader inquiries into the writing practices of this revered American poet, asking questions such as, “What was Emily Dickinson writing? Is this verse or prose or something else? What kinds of practices did she enact in her letter writing? How are poems integral to, and integrated into, her letters? How might poems in letters, and letter-poems, differ from poems in bound manuscript books?”

Because all editing is interpretation, the editors of this critical edition welcome your feedback and suggestions about editing Emily Dickinson’s writings. With this edition, we hope to open up deeper, broader questions about editorial practices across our culture and society. Editing is not only central to literary productions and to film and television, but is constitutive of art, music, drama, and even politics. By revealing the work of editors, including our own, in shaping and making Emily Dickinson’s poems and letters, we aim to encourage readers to cultivate reading strategies unbound, strategies that refuse to accept the patterns given to them unquestioningly. These new reading strategies will offer, we are confident, far more than fresh lenses in our reading glasses. Such active, participatory reading was recommended by Dickinson herself, who wrote that the Poet dwells “in Possibility” and spreads “wide” her “narrow Hands / to gather Paradise.” The fact that this edition is “born-digital” makes it possible for us to show images of the materials on which we are reporting and to expose our editorial processes in ways that have proved too cumbersome for book editions. In addition to exploiting search capabilities more flexible (and so more powerful) than a book’s index, readers of this edition can reorder and rearrange the presentation of these materials in ways a book’s static page orderings will not allow. Such dynamic engagement with editorial materials likewise makes possible critical comparisons of original documents and transcriptions and comparison of documents previously available to only a very few scholars. We hope that these new interactions with Emily Dickinson’s writings will be transferable to other forums for reading so that readers will see the power and scope of editorial work in an array of cultural arenas. This edition is designed, then, not only to show how Emily Dickinson’s literary works have been made for public consumption, but to enable readers to become producers, not simply consumers, of literature and scholarship.

—Martha Nell Smith, Lara Vetter, Ellen Louise Hart

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