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Dickenson is a many-sided woman…Never forgetting her grandmother’s appreciation for women with many skills, she also wrote and translated poems, historical biographies, a novel and a radio play for the BBC, in addition to her university work, as well as raising two children. Her aspiration to see and interpret things differently is already evident in her early work, which includes historical biographies of female writers and poets.
------Jury report, International Spinoza Lens Award 2006

It may seem strange that any one author can combine scientific and literary writing. But the way in which Donna thinks about questions in bioethics depends a great deal on her commitment to real lives and real situations, rather than abstract principles. So it’s not entirely surprising that she has also written three well-received biographies, about Emily Dickinson, George Sand and the 19th-century American feminist Margaret Fuller .

Her first biography, Emily Dickinson (Berg, 1985), was very favourably reviewed by Peter Ackroyd in The Sunday Times:

This is a convincing account which presents Dickinson as an assiduous and ambitious writer who found her lack of contemporary recognition very hard to bear. When a biographer adopts a theory of this kind, it animates the entire narrative, and by the strange alchemy of the biographer’s art, the theoretical or ‘abstract’ insights also generate a much more coherent presentation of personal relationships or private temperament. So it is that Emily Dickinson is portrayed here as playful, exuberant, sometimes wilful—a woman who enjoyed her own company (rather than simply existing in some lachrymose domestic exile) and whose poetry is meant ‘to recapture the transient moments of ecstasy or grief. But Donna Dickenson never loses hold of the larger points which she wishes to make—she rightly criticises, for example, the absurd belief that ‘satisfied “normal” women are unlikely to become great poets’.

As well as the biographies, Donna has written radio plays—including a week’s scripts for BBC Radio Four’s The Archers—and has published two joint collections of poetry. Individual poems have appeared in London Magazine, Magma, Workshop New Poetry, The Little Word Machine, Prospice, French Poetry Now and The Malahat Review. Her poem ‘Counting the Cats in Zanzibar’, which won a prize in the prestigious Peterloo Poets annual competition in 2003, can be read here.

She is now working on a comic novel about consumer genetic testing, Truth or Consequences: A Tale of Biotechnology and Bigamy.

© Donna Dickenson 2010
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