Dec. 10 isn’t a date most people have marked on their calendars. During the busy holiday season, it’s just another day — except for fans of English literature everywhere.
Lisa Bowden, publisher and executive director of Kore Press, recognizes Dec. 10’s significance — she thought it was the perfect date to put on the Big Read Finale during Second Saturdays in downtown Tucson.
“It’s actually the 181st birthday of Emily Dickinson, so when we had to pick a date for the project, we thought it was the perfect day,” Bowden said.
For the average Tucson resident who doesn’t know Emily Dickinson’s birthday, there doesn’t appear to be much reason to attend, but event organizers, and the federal government, would beg to differ.
“The Big Read is an initiative from the National Endowment for the Arts, organized to bring literary reading back into American culture,” Bowden said. “There is actually a list of 30 approved pieces of literature for Big Read, and most of that is fiction. Of that, there were three poets and only one of those was a woman. That was Emily Dickinson and that’s mainly why we picked her, on a very simplistic level. She’s such a curious character.”
It remains to be seen whether this kind of character can resonate with Tucson audiences of a popular event like Second Saturdays, or on the weekend before finals hit for UA students.
“Emily Dickinson is kind of strange, kind of a mythical person. There are big gaps in her personal history that no one knows much about and there’s a lot of misinformation floating around out there. I thought it would be interesting to have this 19th-century poet put on display. In 21st-century Tucson, what would that look like?” Bowden said. “I want to rock Tucson with Emily.”
For those who are concerned this isn’t their scene, the Big Read event offers up options for all kinds of people. The opening reception begins at 5 p.m., where 29 local, national and international artists were given pieces of Dickinson’s texts to use as inspiration for visual projects.
Even those who are just hungry will find something to enjoy immediately following the reception, which will feature Vicki Brown performing original musical compositions and a coconut birthday cake to be cut in Dickinson’s honor at 7:30 p.m.
Finally, a multimedia performance rounds out the events at Hotel Congress. Starting at 8:30 p.m., local artists and musicians will take Dickinson’s poetry and “translate” it into the modern day, using slang and text messaging conventions (among other surprises).
“There are three main events going on and it depends on what someone is into. We have things for all interests, so there is something for everyone,” Bowden said. “If I had to pick one, though, the opening event is great for artists. It’s great for people that want to see her words cross over into the visual.”
Bowden, and the rest of Kore Press, have big ambitions for this year’s Big Read.
“We want people to treat our event like Club Crawl, where they go to the opening ceremony, walk down the street to get a piece of cake and then continue on to finish by listening to some music,” she said.
No easy task. Then again, neither was becoming a famous 19th-century female poet.