Home Office Artifacts: Emily Steiner

Discover the stories behind the Professor of English’s home office items—in her own words.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Photos by Peter DeCherney



I bought this tiny wooden Nativity creche at Playa del Carmen in Mexico. I adore miniature objects, and especially very small religious icons.


I picked up this stone gargoyle at a Paris souvenir shop in the 1980s. Later I learned that it’s a copy of Little Dedo, a famous gargoyle on Notre Dame Cathedral. According to legend, a nun visiting Paris in the 1160s objected to the scary gargoyles on the newly built cathedral. She disguised herself as a stonecutter, carved a cute little monster, and secretly stowed him on the cathedral roof. Centuries later, a little boy tumbled off the roof and into the safe arms of Little Dedo.

Appropriately, my gargoyle has propped up hundreds of books about the Middle Ages!


I acquired this print over 25 years ago from a Czech artist, Jan Otava, on the Charles Bridge in Prague. It’s called "Dárkový koš,” or “gift basket”. A souvenir is, of course, a memoryone that has the ability to transport the most magnificent of cities in the humblest of containers.


I was named after the poet Emily Dickinson and collect books of her poetry. My daughter and I sometimes have “Dickinson slams,” in which we compete to see who has memorized the most poems. A Masque of Poets (1878) is a fascinating collection of poems published anonymously. It invites readers simply to enjoy the poetry without worrying about the reputation of their unnamed authors. Ironically, I bought this book because I did know the name of one of the poets: Emily Dickinson, who submitted the last poem in the volume.


A dear family friend gave me this Tiffany glass apple in honor of my first day at Penn in 1999. Wherever I place it, it reflects my surroundings and reminds me that I am first and foremost a teacher.


What can I say about this loyal shelter dog, my faithful writing companion? Everyone knows that dogs rescue you and not the other way around.