Aífe Murray writes about those who have been forgotten or hidden.
Her multi-form project, Kitchen Table Poetics, investigates class, race, and artistic reciprocities through
the lens of Emily Dickinson and her servants.
Aífe [ee-fah] has been in residence at the Emily Dickinson Museum; she conceived and has led
several public walking tours of Amherst from the perspective of the Dickinson servants; and created
Art of Service, an artists' book collaboration with the present-day housecleaners and gardeners of
the Dickinson Museum. She was an affiliated scholar with the Institute for Research on Women and
Gender at Stanford University and named the 2007 Scholar in Amherst by the Emily Dickinson International Society.
Her book Maid as Muse: How Servants Changed Emily Dickinson's Life and Language will be published in
2010 by the University Press of New Hampshire. A companion Dickinson servant website is being built
at the Dickinson Electronic Archive. Aífe is turning the book's first two chapters into a theater piece.
For her newest project, Stand up and Be Counted, she was awarded a 2009 Research Fellowship by the
Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
add yourself to the Maid as Muse email or postal mail lists:
contact Aífe about a doing a presentation:
- How do you pronounce Aífe?
- ee - fah
- What are Aífe's favorite pretzels?
- Penny Sticks("Food of the gods" -- Hank Murray)
reviews and endorsements
- "Absolutely original... electrifying!... this has importance way beyond
- Tillie Olsen
- "[This] project is wonderful. It opens up the consideration of the
extra-historic expression versus the sanctioned historic one... how
sympathetic I am to the whole project, and how vivid and persuasive it is."
- Eavan Boland
- "First, the way [she] writes. Splendidly unacademic... Second, I think
[Aífe Murray] is very much on the write (as Maggie would have it)
track... What [she] is doing is exactly what I hoped would be done:
exploring a topic... that I couldn't get to in detail -- I'm looking forward
to [her] book."
- Richard Sewall, The Life of Emily Dickinson
- "Rigorously and perceptively Aífe Murray has been exploring an
important and much neglected relationship in Emily Dickinson's life, that
with the family maid, Margaret Maher. Murray's persistence in appreciating
the interdependence between poet and servant, and especially exploring the
kitchen environment where their worlds overlapped, yields multiple new
insights about the poet as woman and writer."
- Polly Longsworth, The World of Emily Dickinson, Austin and Mabel,
and a forthcoming Dickinson biography (Norton)
- "Many biographers have noted the impact on young Willie Yeats of the old
woman who cooked and cleaned for his grandparents in Sligo, and who filled
the boy's imagination with legend and fairy-lore from her post in the
kitchen. Aífe Murray's extraordinary study of Emily Dickinson's Irish
maid not only moves a similar story to the New World but also gives its
substance and lasting significance. Murray's locates Margaret Maher at the
heart of Dickinson's creative process, and she documents Dickinson's
encounter, and apparent fascination, with the unlettered Irish workforce
that was changing the character of her New England. In the future, students
of the Irish in America will be grateful to Murray for giving voice to a
previously unspoken-for generation of Irish immigrants -- the domestic
workers -- and will marvel at her brilliant charting of the interplay of
language between domestic and employer."
- James Rogers, Director,
Center for Irish Studies, University of St. Thomas
- "The impact of this project is very powerful. Most people hearing or
reading Aífe's work are themselves children of immigrants. It is both
revealing and inspiring to see a major literary figure placed in a context
that is richer and more fully human then we had previously recognized."
- Stephen Arkin, San Francisco State University
"Miss Margaret's Emily Dickinson",
An article published in
Signs: Journal of
Women in Culture & Society, Volume 24: Number 3 (Spring
1999), pages 697-732
- "So many of the details that [Aífe Murray] uncovers and
elaborates have such resonance: the watering can that she comes upon in
Kelley Square; the Square itself; most significantly the list of daily
activities... that would constitute the care of a house such as Dickinson's;
the "steady proximity" of Dickinson and Maher; the fact of the use of the
trunk... I almost wept at the point where [she describes] Maher's refusal of
compensation when she worked with Todd. She must have understood her own
legitimate role of co-authorship... how immensely important... [her] work
is -- that stubborn silence, almost outside the range of intelligibility, to
have opened a space and turned a light toward the present-absence of the
servants... I found it all greatly moving."
- Mary Cappello,
- "Aífe Murray opens her article, "Miss Margaret's Emily
Dickinson," with the important question: "How did Emily Dickinson manage to
be so prolific in the nineteenth century, an era when household work was so
labor intensive?" (697). Literary critics may scrutinize every aspect of
women's writing from biographical details to punctuation, often forgetting
this simple question. What exactly were women expected to accomplish in the
infamous domestic sphere? What work was there?"
- "Martha Nell Smith,
Rowing in Eden
"The Kitchen" from 'To Venerate
the Simple Days': Women's Literacy Practices in the Nineteenth Century
- "Murray's article ["Miss Margaret's Emily Dickinson"] is thoroughly
using both primary archival materials and secondary historical and theoretical
studies. In her research, Murray uncovered various discrepancies between
accounts that have been used and recycled as "facts" and the actual witness of
historical records. Most of these "facts" appear first in writings by Millicent
Todd Bingham and then are repeated and/or elaborated in Richard Sewall's The
Life of Emily Dickinson (1974), often quoted without question. And most of these
"facts" use the words of Mabel Loomis Todd, her daughter Bingham, or their
friends and dispute and label as "fiction" the testimony of Martha Dickinson
Bianchi, Emily Dickinson's niece, and her friends. Yet in querying Sewall
himself about some of the "facts" in dispute, Murray received this candid
response, which calls some of his biographical account into question: "I
understood from Mrs. Bingham that.... I'm not sure, though, that she had it
right. I know nothing about Bianchi's relations w/Maggie. Bianchi may be right
in this instance" (September 19, 1994, letter, quoted in above article, n39)."
- Martha Nell Smith,
"The Dickinsons and Class", from The Civil War, Class and