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Getting to know Emily Seelbinder

Emily Seelbinder blew into Queens in 1989, on the tailwinds of Hurricane Hugo.

At least that's how she likes to tell it. And when she tells a story, students love to listen.

The much beloved English Department Chair came from Wake Forest University, where her parents also taught.

"They were math professors, but also were avid readers so that's where I got my love of books," she said.

Like many young women of her generation she dove into works by Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath, but none piqued her interest like Emily Dickinson.

In 1974 she was an undergraduate at Hollins College and was doing an independent study of Dickinson over the winter term. She remembers poring over the poet's work, cozied up in her dorm room, listening to Mozart while snow fell outside.

She marveled in the musicality of Dickinson's work and was intrigued by its many ties to the Bible. Years later she would travel to a Boston library and get to hold an original Dickinson manuscript in her hands. It was a transformative moment, one that still gives her goosebumps.

Now she travels all over the world to speak about Dickinson and she is writing a chapter about Biblical themes in Dickinson's work for an upcoming book for Cambridge University Press.

"The way that Dickinson speaks of the human experience, her way of seeing and expressing it in an explosive way, she's just brilliant," Seelbinder says. "Unfortunately many people don't encounter her work in all of its fullness."

Seelbinder herself is dynamic and animated. She delights in whimsy, but has a reputation for expecting complete engagement from her students. They take her seriously despite her habit of wearing silly socks (lately pumpkins for Halloween) and earrings (ornaments that really light up for the holidays.)

When she's not teaching, writing or working on finishing her home renovation she enjoys volunteering for Opera Carolina and reading mystery fiction.

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