Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born on December 10, 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts. The second of three children, her brother Austin grew up to be a lawyer like their father, Squire Edward Dickinson; her sister Lavinia, who, like Emily, never married, lived at home with Emily all her life.
Emily's father was the treasurer at Amherst Academy for more than thirty years; her grandfather, Samuel Fowler Dickinson, was a founder of the Academy. When Emily was of age, she attended Amherst Academy and after graduation she studied at Mt. Holyoke Female Seminary for one year.
She began to write poetry when she was about fifteen. By the time she was twenty she'd become quite serious about her writing. Her most frequent themes were nature, love and death. When she wasn't writing she was tending her garden or baking bread and cakes for the household. No one else in her family took much interest in her poems, however. The only person who encouraged her was a young man who worked as a law student in her father's office--Benjamin Franklin Newton. They became close friends, but Benjamin left Amherst when he was eighteen, and died only four years later.
Emily Dickinson had a very typical childhood. And she loved to read! especially the poets John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and William Shakespeare. She was particularly influenced by the English novelist Emily Bronte and the American philosopher-poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson. As she grew to womanhood she found herself writing more and more and having less and less to do with the town and its citizens. She was known to the locals as an eccentric recluse, but she kept up a lively and wonderful correspondence with several good friends all her life as well as having written 1,775 poems!
While these special few friends knew of her great talent, she was not known to the world as she is now--as one of the greatest masters of the short lyric poem. She died on May 15, 1886 having had only seven poems published!
Emily Dickinson's poems are not as easy to read as some you might be familiar with. Many of them are somewhat like riddles: you have to read them again and again to figure them out. But like any good riddle, once you've solved the puzzle, you'll want to challenge others with it and tell it over and over.