2019 has been, among other things, the year that the world at large figured out what a smaller group of librarians, scholars, poets, queer folks, and English majors have probably known for ages: Emily Dickinson was hella gay, and writing poetry was not her only subversive act. Apple + has taken this fact to a whole new level with the trailer for Dickinson, their new half hour comedy (????) series starring Hailey Steinfeld and coming exclusively to Apple + this fall. Check out the trailer for Dickinson:
I know what you’re thinking: Is this Emily Dickinson, but make it Riverdale?
As far as I can tell, yes.
It’s difficult (if not impossible) to properly read tone from a trailer, which can be cut to show any one aspect of a series. It seems, based on watching this particular trailer six times, that the Steinfeld-led show (she executive produces as well as starring) is taking Dickinson’s inner rebel and making her an outer rebel. To be sure, it is nearly impossible to know what her real life personality was like. When her letters and poems were posthumously published, all of her love letters to Susan Gilbert were withheld, her queerness almost completely erased for a century.
Based on the trailer, it appears that Emily will be not only queer, but also a rebel who disappoints her father, frightens her mother, wears trousers, is a dramatic teenager, makes rude gestures, performs in cabaret shows, plays a cardboard banjo, dances like she’s at The Bronze, and…dresses up like she is in the circus? I’m only guessing at some of these! I would be lying if I said I were not seriously considering subscribing to Apple + to find out more!
Dickinson is the newest in a small but not insignificant run of media about Emily Dickinson. Wild Nights With Emily starred Molly Shannon and focused on her romance with Susan. A Quiet Passion starred Cynthia Nixon as adult Emily and Emma Bell as her younger incarnation, and was more of a straight (no pun intended) bio pic. There were documentaries in 1997 (Fifty Poems of Emily Dickinson) and 2000 (Great Women Writers: Emily Dickinson). Of these, only Wild Nights With Emily was helmed by a woman. Dickinson has a female creator—Alena Smith, best known as a writer on The Affair and The Newsroom—and is executive produced by its female star, but the first episode is directed by a man—David Gordon Green of Halloween 2018. Smith is credited with writing that episode.
For further reading, I strongly recommend Figuring by Maria Popova, a book that is non-exclusively about Emily and Susan. At over 500 pages, about 100 of them devoted to Dickinson, it’s a bit of a door stopper, though in my opinion it is one of the most beautiful and necessary books of the year, if not my lifetime. For a quicker bite of reading, check out this excerpt on Popova’s Brain Pickings website: Emily Dickinson’s Electric Love Letters to Susan Gilbert.