Some of the Essential Emily

The Community of Writers is honored to present a short course on the Poetry of Emily Dickinson, led by Brenda Hillman and Robert Hass

Emily Dickinson was born in 1830 and died in 1886. She began writing poems when she was a teenager and wrote something like 1500 poems over the course of her life, at least a hundred of which have been regarded as among the most striking poems in the English language.

Our aim in this class is to look closely at about twenty poems over the course of five weeks. We recommend first of all reading the poems intensely, and in preparation, if you are inclined, to immerse yourselves in her letters, her biography, and some of the influential critical responses to her work. We won’t be lingering over her life, her reclusiveness, the intellectual background of 19th century Amherst, the various Emily legends. We will be trying to read some of her extraordinary poems.

Dates & Times: Online Tuesdays from November 12 to December 10, 2024. Main sessions run from 4 pm-6 pm (Pacific) with optional discussion groups to follow.

  • Tuesday, November 12, 2024 
  • Tuesday, November 19, 2024 
  • Tuesday, November 26, 2024 
  • Tuesday, December 3, 2024 
  • Tuesday, December 10, 2024 

Note: For those who are interested, intimate Zoom discussion groups (Virtual Houses) will meet after each session and on subsequent Saturdays at 10 AM.

Course Texts

Participants who don’t own the text are asked to purchase at least the required text, if possible, before April 28. Additional optional texts are included below.

         Required Text:

                  The Pocket Emily Dickinson, ed. Brenda Hillman, Shambhala Press, 2009

         Optional Texts:


                  The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, ed. Thomas H. Johnson, Little Brown 1960
                  (this is a widely available text, the first to honor ED’s punctuation)

                  The Poems of Emily Dickinson, ed. R. W. Franklin, Harvard University Press, 1999
                  (this is the commonly used scholarly text, slightly different from the Johnson)

                  The influential biographies:

                  Richard B. Sewall, The Life of Emily Dickinson, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1980
                  Cynthia Griffin Wolff, Emily Dickinson, Alfred Knopf, 1987

                  Alfred Habegger, My Wars Are Laid Away in Books, The Life of Emily Dickinson,
                  Modern Library, 2002

                  Critical Orientations:

                  Susan Howe, My Emily Dickinson, New Directions, 2007

                  Additional critical essays will be made available as handouts, including:

                  Adrienne Rich, “Vesuvius at Home: The Power of Emily Dickinson,” 1977

                  Richard Wilbur “Sumptuous Destitution,” 1959

Handouts for each session will be posted online. Additional reading materials, including essays and poems will be added.


Photo credit: University of Arizona Poetry Center

Brenda Hillman’s most recent book is Extra Hidden Life among the Days (2018). Hillman has co-edited and co-translated numerous volumes, including Ana Cristina Cesar’s At Your Feet (Parlor Press, 2018), co-translated from Portuguese with her mother Helen Hillman. Her awards for poetry include the 2020 Morton Dauwen Zabel Award for Innovation from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.  She teaches at Saint Mary’s College of California, directs Poetry Week at Community of Writers and currently serves as a Chancellor at the Academy of American Poets.

Photo Credit © Miriam Berkley

Robert Hass has published many books of poetry including Field GuidePraiseHuman WishesSun Under Wood, and The Apple Trees at Olema: New and Selected Poems. His collection of poems entitled Time and Materials won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. He has also written books of essays including Twentieth Century PleasuresNow & Then, and  A Little Book on Form: An Exploration Into the Formal Imagination of Poetry. His book of essays, What Light Can Do: Essays on Art, Imagination, and the Natural World, is the recipient of the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. Hass translated many of the works of Nobel Prize-winning Polish poet, Czeslaw Milosz, and he has edited Selected Poems: 1954-1986 by Tomas Transtromer; The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and IssaPoet’s Choice: Poems for Everyday Life; the 2001 edition of Best American Poetry; and Modernist Women Poets: An Anthology (with Paul Ebenkamp). He wrote the introduction to an edition of selected Walt Whitman poems titled Song of Myself: And Other Poems. He also wrote The Poetic Species: A Conversation with Edward O. Wilson and Robert Hass. His most recent book is Summer Snow: New Poems. He directed the Poetry Program at the Community of Writers for over 20 years.

What to Expect:

  • Five, two-hour weekly sessions online with assigned reading. The group can be large, depending on the course.
  • In the first 60 or 70 minutes, Hillman and Hass will explore and supply background on the previously assigned readings.
  • In the second part, Hillman and Hass will address questions and widen the discussion. Participant questions and comments will be submitted in the chat.
  • Optional small (8-10 person) discussion groups will be available to those with the energy and interest after the formal session is over. Discussion guides will be provided.
  • These sessions will be recorded, and will be available for later viewing by registered participants for 30 days following the final session


  • Early Bird Tuition is $270 (deadline: midnight on Tuesday, October 29)
  • Standard Tuition is $300.
  • Limited financial aid available. Please contact us if needed.
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Online, and year-round, The Writers’ Annex is composed of short courses, seminars, workshops, and more. Our vision is to bring the creative insight and experience of our staff poets and prose writers to our community in all seasons, not just in the summertime, and not just here in our Valley.  Our online offerings will address such topics as eco-poetics, translation, and generative sessions. Some will be one or two days, some will be weekend intensives, and some will meet weekly for a month or two. In addition, we hope these offerings will help offset the tremendous expenses we face as an organization for our traditional in-person events in Olympic Valley.   Join our Mailing List