The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Reading Between the Lines: InsideOut Literary Arts Project

Detroit, Michigan

As part of Camp Dickinson, middle and high school dancers and musicians collaborate to create a performance piece inspired by Emily Dickinson?s poetry. Photo courtesy of InsideOut Literary Arts Project

Last December, singer/songwriter Blair debuted his song cycle based on Emily Dickinson?s poems at an event celebrating the poet?s birthday. (Listen to a short clip of Blair?s "I Haven't Told My Garden Yet" here.) This is just one of the creative ways that Detroit?s InsideOut Literary Arts Project has found to connect the poetry of Emily Dickinson with its community. In the below PSA for The Big Read, Blair, founder and executive director of InsideOut Terry Blackhawk, and poet Edward Hirsch describe why Detroit?s community should read Emily Dickinson.

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Read on for more about InsideOut?s Big Read from Terry Blackhawk.

NEA: How does The Big Read fit into your mission at the InsideOut Literary Arts Project?

TERRY BLACKHAWK: The mission of InsideOut Literary Arts Project is to engage young people with the pleasure and power of language. We believe that the teaching of self-expression through poetry transforms people?s lives and that exposure to poetry broadens intellectual curiosity and appreciation of language. Dickinson is one of the most powerful poets ever to have walked on this planet. Her voice and imagery communicate directly to the human heart, and her poems are endlessly intriguing to readers of all ages. With Dickinson as a programming theme for the year, The Big Read is allowing us to fulfill the values that we attempt to live by. She is also presenting us with opportunities for more public programming than we have previously undertaken. Dickinson may be unique among poets in the sheer volume of visual art, music, and dance that her work has inspired. Youth in our programs are taking inspiration from her as well, producing graphic novels, videos, dance, poetry, and visual art that show what her influence can be for young people today.

NEA: Why did you feel the poetry of Emily Dickinson would be a good fit for your community?

BLACKHAWK: Dickinson is a poet of great consolation and understanding who can represent the depths of both pain and joy in human experience. She is also perplexing, charming, quirky, ironic, and endlessly stimulating. We wanted to give our community a sense of the eternal matters that she inhabits so freely, and to help students and adult readers experience the mysterious power of her language to refresh our perceptions of the world. To be a Detroiter means a daily confrontation with economic and social issues that rend the heart. It also means finding hope and inspiration in the authentic expressions of our citizens, youth, and artists for whom restrictive labels are not acceptable. Dickinson helps us ?dwell in Possibility.? She is honest, bracing, and refuses to be fooled. She situates Hope directly in the Soul, where we especially know it lives.

NEA: What Big Read event are you most looking forward to this year?

BLACKHAWK: I am looking forward to our culminating event---a 12-hour marathon reading on May 14th that will end on the stroke of midnight. We initiated the year with a celebration of Dickinson?s birthday on December 10, so ending the project on the anniversary of her death (May 15, 1886), will make a fitting frame. We look forward to local poets, literary groups, celebrities, academicians, librarians, students, and others joining us in reading favorite poems. We also look forward to performances from our youth participants and members of the local slam community in addition to the general reading audience at this event.

NEA: What has been the biggest surprise from your experience with The Big Read?

BLACKHAWK: The biggest surprise for me has been seeing the delight and the diversity of the response to our program. We have reached a broad spectrum of people in terms of age, education, and ethnicity. I appreciate the enthusiasm for Dickinson?s words and the eagerness of our attendees to grasp her genius. I have also greatly enjoyed working with singer/songwriter Blair whose musical interpretations of Dickinson?s poems have given me new and thrilling insights into her work.

InsideOut Literary Arts Project?s Big Read continues through May. For more information, visit their website. For more on Emily Dickinson, visit The Big Read website.

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