We have resumed some on-campus services, including book pickup, virtual consultations, and fulfilling scanning/digitization requests. Many library materials are available online, but our buildings remain closed until further notice.

Houghton Library is known for its holdings of papers of 19th-century American writers, and many would say that the jewel in that crown is the Emily Dickinson Collection, the largest collection of the poet’s autograph poems and letters in the world. Every year the library throws a birthday party for Emily, featuring her famous 20-lb black cake, the autograph recipe of which can be found in the collection.

Sadly, we cannot gather in person this year to party and eat cake, so this fall we encouraged intrepid bakers and Dickinson fans from around the world to join us, together at home, in baking her black cake. Our collective efforts will culminate in a live Zoom birthday party on the 10th. (You don’t have to bake the cake to attend, but you still have time to try it if you want!)  We’ll be joined by a distinguished roster of poets, food writers, librarians, scholars, students, and literati who will read their favorite Dickinson poems, share what the poet means to them, and generally wax eloquent on America’s cherished poet and her kitchen prowess. Word has it that we’ll be favored with a newly-composed poem or two, and a dash of Hollywood to boot! Attendees will get an exclusive sneak peek of AppleTV+'s series Dickinson! Show creator Alena Smith will present a clip  from Season 2 featuring Emily's cake.

  • A.N. Devers, Proprietor of the Second Shelf
  • Shayla Lawson, Poet, Author, and Professor at Amherst College
  • Alena Smith, Creator of Apple TV+ television series Dickinson
  • Rachel Syme, Staff Writer at The New Yorker
  • Nikki Silva, NPR, The Kitchen Sisters
  • Laura Shapiro, Food Writer, Author of What She Ate
  • Tracie Morris, Scholar, Poet, Author, and Former Woodberry Poetry Room Creative Fellow
  • Abigail Weil, Food Writer
  • Ann Kjellberg, Editor and founder of Book Post
  • Heather Cole, Librarian for Literary & Popular Culture Collections at Brown University
  • Emilie Hardman, Head of Distinctive Collections at MIT
  • Amanda Gorman (Class of '20), Poet and 2017 National Youth Poet Laureate
  • Margaret Rhee, Poet, New Media Artist, and Assistant Professor in Media Studies SUNY Buffalo
  • Kimberly Ramirez, Undergraduate Student at SUNY Buffalo
  • Vanessa Braganza, PhD Candidate, English Department, Harvard University

We invite you to join the festivities as we celebrate both Emily the Poet and Emily the Baker!

This event is free and open to the public. Registration required. The formal program will begin at 3:00 and run for an hour and thirty minutes. Revelers may arrive as early as 2:45 to mingle and greet friends, and they are invited to stay after the formal program for Q&A, sharing of baking stories, and general camaraderie.

The event will not be recorded. “That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet.” (ED)

To request an accommodation or to ask a question about access, please contact us at houghtonlibrary_events@harvard.edu. Live closed captioning may require up to 3 days' advance notice.