December 2015 | Barbara Basbanes Richter

Emily Dickinson's 185th Birthday Celebration Includes Coconut Cake and Crowd-Sourced Poetry

Emily Dickinson would have been 185 on December 10, and institutions across America have been marking the occasion with various public programs and, of course, poetry readings. But the Emily Dickinson Museum, located in the poet's Amherst, Massachusetts home, takes the cake.

Emily Dickinson. Daguerreotype. ca. 1847 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. (Amherst College Archives & Special Collections)

This year, the museum is holding off on the festivities until December 12 (tomorrow), when the general public is invited to fête the "Belle of Amherst" and tour the recently completed renovation of Dickinson's bedroom. Restoration began in 2013 of the second floor retreat where the poet often found solace and creative inspiration. Cheery, rose-patterned wallpaper that now graces the room is based on original paper fragments found on the property. "Before the restoration, the room was rather stark--white walls, spare furnishings," said Brooke Steinhauser, the museum's program director. "Now, visitors are surprised at the loveliness of the space. I think it changes people's perspective." Boston's North Bennet Street School, a private vocational institution with one of the top woodworking programs in America, sent students Caleb Schultz and Boyd Allen to create exact replicas of Dickinson's writing stand and bureau. The originals are housed in the Emily Dickinson collection at Harvard's Houghton Library. (The Houghton Library blog ran a fascinating story on getting the reproductions just right, which you can read here.)

The Homestead. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Birthday guests are welcome to tour the entire Homestead (as the museum is also known), listen to contemporary poets read their own work composed in Dickinson's bedroom, and even contribute to a "crowd-sourced poem" in honor of the day. No celebration would be complete without cake, and the museum will serve a coconut confection baked according to Dickinson's own handwritten recipe and provided by Amherst's Henion Bakery.

Emily Dickinson's 185th birthday celebration takes place tomorrow, December 12, at the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts, from 1 to 4pm. The event is free and open to the general public. For further information, including directions and a list of poets participating the ceremony, visit