Staging Emily Dickinson

The History and Enduring Influence of William Luce’s The Belle of Amherst

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About the Book

With a writer who had never written a play, an actress who had never taken the stage alone, and a director who had never headed a live performance, The Belle of Amherst managed to become an American theater classic. Despite being savaged by critics attending its opening night in April 1976, the play, which details the life of Emily Dickinson, survived its baptism by fire and went on to appear in theaters across the world.
This is the remarkable untold story of “the little play that could.” Covering the play’s humble beginnings as well as its pioneers—like writer William Luce, director Charles Nelson Reilly and actress Julie Harris—this work also documents the modern efforts to keep the play alive in the time of COVID-19. Exploring the show’s enduring dramatic power, this book ultimately pays respect to the one-woman show that has triumphed for decades.

About the Author(s)

Biographer Grant Hayter-Menzies lives in British Columbia. His works include biographies of Charlotte Greenwood, Princess Der Ling, Sarah Pike Conger, Pauline Benton, and Lillian Carter, along with the life of a dog, military mascot Rags of the First Division in World War I. He is the literary executor of playwright William Luce.

Bibliographic Details

Grant Hayter-Menzies
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages:
Bibliographic Info: ca. 25 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2023
pISBN: 978-1-4766-8947-0
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4903-0
Imprint: McFarland

Book Reviews & Awards

• “Grant Hayter-Menzies was the companion, caretaker, and archivist of a great American playwright, but he is also a writer of uncommon perceptiveness and grace. In this book, Grant gives us a probing backstage look at William Luce’s most celebrated work; at the same time, he shows us a literary friendship that is in itself worthy of a play.”—James Gavin, author of Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne and Is That All There Is? The Strange Life of Peggy Lee

• “Hayter-Menzies has composed a poetic, touching, and insightful tribute worthy of his subjects. Julie Harris, Charles Nelson Reilly, and the Belle herself would delight in their portraits, but most of all, this work reveals the gifted, glorious, funny, witty, sly, and brilliant William Luce. In the most heartfelt, honest, and compassionate prose, Hayter-Menzies has brought Luce into the light!”—John W. Lowell, award-winning playwright, author of Autumn Canticle and The Letters

• “In Staging Emily Dickinson, Grant Hayter-Menzies gives us the full story of how Julie Harris, playwright William Luce, and director Charles Nelson Reilly came together to give the world the beautiful and still-traveling play The Belle of Amherst. A book like this does not come along often. Make an appointment to spend time with it.”—James Grissom, author, Follies of God: Tennessee Williams and the Women of the Fog

• “Hayter-Menzies has given us a fascinating and fully realized look into how three artistic geniuses forged their creative prowess into one of the greatest American plays of the 20th century. Gorgeously told, with unstoppable cadence and powerful imagery, the book is refreshingly candid with an inspired blending of courage and grace. A valuable work for anyone concerned with the theater.”—Bill Haworth, crisis communications specialist, former award-winning broadcast reporter