A Loaded Gun


256 pages

Trade Paper

List Price US $19.99
ISBN: 9781934137987


ISBN: 9781934137994

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“A magnetic nonfiction reevaluation of the mystifying, radical, perhaps bisexual, and maybe greatest-ever American poet.”

O, The Oprah Magazine

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“In A Loaded Gun, [Charyn] is again out to release Dickinson from the myths that have enclosed her. . . . With essayistic chapters on Dickinson’s mother, her dog, her servants, her photographic image, her poetic fragments—Charyn’s book is perhaps best viewed as yet another imaginative attempt to get to the source of Dickinson’s emotional intensity, and to imagine an ‘Emily Dickinson for the 21st Century.’”

New York Review of Books

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“[Emily Dickinson] will blow the top of your head off, no matter what century you live in. Charyn looks at a lot of ways to see this revolutionary, subversive, explosive genius.”

Philadelphia Inquirer

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“Ecstatic. . . . [Charyn] may be the perversely perfect critic for the poet who wandered ‘The House of Supposition — / The Glimmering Frontier that / Skirts the Acres of Perhaps—.’”

VICE magazine

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“One of the most distinctively different critical works on Emily Dickinson. . . . Startling, inventive, and vibrant with expressive energy.”

Key Reporter

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“Charyn is a man, a New Yorker, living in the twenty-first century, yet he understands this female rebel from New England like no one else can.”

Scranton Examiner

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“Less literary criticism than threnody, a bold, loose-limbed, Whitman-like prose-poem lamenting the constrictive previous, but still prevailing, notions of Dickinson and lauding instead a wild woman of words. . . . A Loaded Gun is an invitation to meet Dickinson on the dizzyingly high ground of her imagination from a fellow writer who has done just that with his own writing.”

Bay Area Reporter

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“An imaginative and unprecedented look at Emily Dickinson that is part biography, part literary criticism, and altogether fascinating.”


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A Loaded Gun is a fascinating meditation on an individual’s relationship to language and her place in the world, and Charyn’s quest will appeal not only to poetry lovers and Dickinson fans, but to anyone who understands the joy of immersing oneself in a puzzle to which no definitive ‘answer’ yet exists.”

Late Night Library

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“Reading Jerome Charyn sometimes evokes the sensation of seeing Dickinson arise from her poems. . . . [H]e is about the work of enlarging the universe of her person and her poetry while he shows how much more there is still to do in fathoming her depths and contours.”

University Bookman

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“Charyn is intrigued by the hermeneutics of biography and literary criticism. He is steeped in the work of Dickinson scholars and readers. . . . For Charyn the poems are Emily Dickinson, the vital part of herself that as a woman in nineteenth-century Massachusetts she could only fully express by keeping to herself—not as someone shy of society so much as one who knew society simply could not reciprocate what she had to offer. In other words, Charyn’s Dickinson is not agoraphobic, not a neurotic, but a writer in charge of her destiny.”

Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly

“Charyn has followed Dickinson as assiduously as Alice down the rabbit hole. . . . Is Dickinson gay? Read Charyn’s fascinating thesis and decide.”

Lavender Magazine

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“In his reexamination of Dickinson as a sensitive recluse, Charyn does the influential poetess justice by admitting her ambition. Dickinson’s irreverence for grammatical and societal convention made her a revolutionary figure. Charyn gives the writer due credit for engineering her reputation and role, and not being a victim to it.”

Nordstrom’s The Thread

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“A postmodernism-flavored study of Emily Dickinson’s life and work. . . . [A] lively reassessment [with] vivid commentary.”

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

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“A writer obsessed with the Belle of Amherst imagines her rich, sensual inner life. . . . Charyn’s ardent sleuthing yields a daring portrait of the elusive ‘enchantress’ and her world.”

Kirkus Reviews

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“Charyn explores how the gaps in knowledge about Dickinson’s biography and writings contribute to her ever-expanding mystique. . . . [His] inviting prose allows readers with any degree of expertise on the life and work of Dickinson an entryway into her innovative, marvelous poetry.”

Library Journal

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“A celebrated master of literary voice, Charyn inhabits Dickinson from the first page. . . . [A Loaded Gun] is a gratifying nut of poetic analysis, historical psychology, and the passionate homage of a lifelong disciple of the beloved Belle of Amherst.”

Historical Novels Review

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“An intense work of literary scholarship. . . . [H]ighly recommended.”

Midwest Book Review

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“Remarkable insight . . . [a] unique meditation/investigation. . . . Jerome Charyn the unpredictable, elusive, and enigmatic is a natural match for Emily Dickinson, the quintessence of these.”

Joyce Carol Oates, author of Wild Nights! and The Lost Landscape

“Provocative, sexy, pulsing with energy, and sometimes outrageous, Jerome Charyn’s A Loaded Gun revisits the subject he ‘couldn’t let go’ after completing his novel, The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson. Tunneling into the poems, letters, biographies, and works of art inspired by Dickinson, Charyn presents the poet as ‘a Satanic, catlike sibyl,’ adept with masks, tricks, and outlaw escapes from convention. Keeping the subjects of the poet’s family, religion, sexuality, and poetic ‘tradecraft’ whirling in the air, he shows us Emily Dickinson as a ‘target who never sits still.’”

Susan Snively, author of The Heart Has Many Doors and Skeptic Traveler

“Jerome Charyn’s A Loaded Gun is a staggeringly brilliant meditation on Emily Dickinson’s life and work, one that will shatter forever the myth of ‘the virgin recluse.’ His shrewd and provocative reading of her life, her loves, and her times allows us to understand in new ways just how Dickinson reinvented the language of poetry itself. One of the great and most original storytellers of our time, Charyn takes us deep inside the mysterious power and glory of Dickinson’s poetry, and into the strange, bold fearlessness of her outlaw life.”

Jay Neugeboren, author of Imagining Robert and The Other Side of the World

“In A Loaded Gun, Jerome Charyn penetrates to the heart of Emily Dickinson, commonly thought to be a gifted but withdrawn spinster. He explores the ‘demon’ in her, the ‘predator,’ and should make readers go back to her poetry with a new understanding of why she still works her spell in our time.”

Herbert Gold, author of Still Alive: A Temporary Condition and When a Psychopath Falls in Love

“A new literary biography of one of America’s most-loved and most mysterious poets. Charyn reveals a woman quite different from the lonely spinster we are all used to: a sexual woman engaged with herself and the world in a deeply philosophical way.”

Shorewood Public Library (Shorewood, WI)

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We think we know Emily Dickinson: the Belle of Amherst, virginal, reclusive, and possibly mad. But in A Loaded Gun, Jerome Charyn introduces us to a different Emily Dickinson: the fierce, brilliant, and sexually charged poet who wrote:

My Life had stood—a Loaded Gun—

Though I than He— may longer live

He longer must—than I—

For I have but the power to kill,

Without—the power to die—

Through interviews with contemporary scholars, close readings of Dickinson’s correspondence and handwritten manuscripts, and a suggestive, newly discovered photograph that is purported to show Dickinson with her lover, Charyn’s literary sleuthing reveals the great poet in ways that have only been hinted at previously: as a woman who was deeply philosophical, intensely engaged with the world, attracted to members of both sexes, and able to write poetry that disturbs and delights us today.

Phi Beta Kappa Christian Gauss Award Short List

PEN/ Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography Longlist 

Firecracker Award Finalist

O, The Oprah Magazine “Best Books of Summer” selection

Iowa Public Radio “Summer Book List” selection

Philadelphia Inquirer “Spring Ahead Into the World of Books” selection

Nordstrom’s The Thread “Weekend Guide” selection

Longreads “Best of the Year: Most Popular Exclusives” selection

Ploughshares “Indie Spotlight: Year-end Wrap-up” selection

Big Other “Most Anticipated Small Press Book” selection

Publishers Weekly “Book of the Week” & PW Daily “Review of the Day” selection

Shorewood Public Library “Make Room for Poetry” Top Pick

Book Culture bestseller

Spoonbill & Sugartown staff pick

Excerpt from A Loaded Gun

Congratulations to Jerome Charyn, whose A Loaded Gun: Emily Dickinson for the 21st Century has been named to the Phi Beta Kappa Christian Gauss Award Short List and the PEN/ Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography Longlist, and is a Firecracker Award Finalist.

Jerome Charyn talks to the Brooklyn Rail and Late Night Library about A Loaded Gun, his lifelong fascination with Emily Dickinson, and the art of biography.

Read excerpts from A Loaded Gun at Longreads and the Literary Hub.

Jerome Charyn explores Emily Dickinson’s tradecraft, imagining the poet as a 21st-century CIA analyst, in an exclusive outtake chapter from A Loaded Gun in Stay Thirsty Magazine.

Watch Jerome Charyn discuss Emily Dickinson at the Harvard Book Store and read a long-ranging interview with him about Emily Dickinson and his own writing life, via the Université de Provence.

Find Jerome Charyn’s latest dispatches about Emily Dickinson on Facebook (SecretLifeOfEmilyDickinson) and Twitter (@EmilySecretLife).