The first book to portray one of the most remarkable friendships in American letters, that of Emily Dickinsonârecluse, poetâand Thomas Wentworth Higginson, minister, literary figure, active abolitionist.Their friendship began in 1862. The Civil War was raging. Dickinson was thirty-one; Higginson, thirty-eight. A former pastor at the Free Church of Worcester, Massachusetts, he wrote often for the cultural magazine of the day, The Atlantic Monthlyâon gymnastics, womenâs rights, and slavery. His article âLetter to a Young Contributorâ gave advice to readers who wanted to write for the magazine and offered tips on how to submit oneâs work (âuse black ink, good pens, white paperâ).Among the letters Higginson received in response was one scrawled in looping, difficult handwriting. Four poems were enclosed in a smaller envelope. He deciphered the scribble: âAre you too deeply occupied to say if my Verse is alive?âHigginson read the poems. The writing was unique, uncategorizable. It was clear to him that this was âa wholly new and original poetic genius,â and the memory of that moment stayed with him when he wrote about it thirty years later.Emily Dickinsonâs question inaugurated one of the least likely correspondences in American lettersâbetween a man who ran guns to Kansas, backed John Brown, and would soon command the first Union regiment of black soldiers, and the eremitic, elusive poet who cannily told him she did not cross her âFatherâs ground to any House or town.âFor the next quarter century, until her death in 1886, Dickinson sent Higginson dazzling poems, almost one hundred of themâmany of them her best. Their metrical forms were unusual, their punctuation unpredictable, their images elliptical, innovative, unsentimental. Poetry torn up by the roots, Higginson later said, that âgives the sudden transitions.âDickinson was a genius of the faux-naÃ¯f variety, reclusive to be sure but more savvy than one might imagine, more self-conscious and sly, and certainly aware of her outsize talent. âDare you see a Soul at the âWhite Heatâ?â she wondered. She dared, and he did.In this shimmering, revelatory work, Brenda Wineapple re-creates the extraordinary, delicate friendship that led to the publication of Dickinsonâs poetry. And though she and Higginson met face-to-face only twice (he had never met anyone âwho drained my nerve power so much,â he said), their friendship reveals much about Dickinson, throwing light onto both the darkened door of the poetâs imagination and a corner of the noisy century that she and Colonel Higginson shared.White Heat is about poetry, politics, and love; it is, as well, a story of seclusion and engagement, isolation and activismâand the way they were relatedâin the roiling America of the nineteenth century.