Emily Dickinson’s (1830-1886) spare poems, with their dashes, singular punctuation, capitalization, and original ideas—were “trailblazers” for their time. She would confide to a friend: “There is always one thing to be grateful for—that one is one’s self & not somebody else.” Yet her poems were deemed too unconventional by the publishing community of the mid 1800’s, not to mention that she was a woman!
Even Emily’s devoted friend and confidante Thomas Higginson, with whom she corresponded the better part of 20 years, recognized the genius of her poems but felt they would never find an audience.
After Emily’s death, Higginson finally became convinced of their marketability upon hearing Emily’s poems performed and read aloud, ironically, by Emily’s brother’s mistress, Mabel Loomis Todd. Mabel greatly admired Emily’s poetry and had begun typing them up and committing them to memory, so convinced was she of their genius.
In 1890, a small publishing house finally relented to publish but only if they were allowed to “standardize Emily’s verses” and only if the Dickinson’s paid for the publishing and relinquished some of the royalties. 500 copies flew off the shelves on the first day of publication. 11,000 copies by end of the first year. Many years later, Emily’s poems would be printed as Emily intended them. And the rest is history.