BOSTON - Our Lady of Lourdes graduate Kathryn Burak released her first novel, "Emily's Dress and Other Missing Things" (Roaring Brook/Macmillan), on Oct. 2.

"Emily's Dress" is about a girl who steals Emily Dickinson's dress from the poet's museum in Amherst, Mass., and solves the mystery of her best friend's disappearance. The starred Booklist review described the novel as "a complete portrait of loss, longing, redemption and love," and the Independent Booksellers Association put it on its highly selective New Voices list for 2012.

"I wanted to tell the story of a girl who is grieving, who turns to the poetry of Emily Dickinson to help her understand her mother's death, but who also finds her own writing transformative," said Burak, a 1977 graduate of the Coal Township high school, and a Boston University writing professor who has published numerous short stories and poems in magazines and literary journals such as the Missouri Review, Western Humanities Review, Seventeen, and Fiction. She is also the co-author of "Writing in the Works," a composition textbook.

Passion in high school

Burak developed a passion for writing as a high school student.

"When I first started writing, as a high school student at Lourdes, the message I got was "you can be anything you want to be,'" Burak said. "It came at the right time for me, when I was trying to decide who I was and how to make sense of the world."

Burak pursued her interest in writing through college and she went on to earn an MFA in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

'Close' to Dickinson

Burak found setting a novel in Amherst, at the poet's house, too tempting to pass up.

"After living in Amherst, you can really feel close to Dickinson," Burak says, "especially if you already love poetry."

She is currently teaming up with the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Mass., to restock the bookshelves in the Dickinson homestead, through a fundraising project.

Dickinson family members were avid readers and amassed hundreds of volumes, but over the years the books were donated to universities, leaving the shelves bare. Now, museum officials have put together a list of the family's books and hope to garner donations to replenish the shelves.

Burak got involved after contacting Jane Wald, the museum's executive director, to tell her about her novel.

"The book has some breaking and entering as well as grand theft," she said, "I was afraid the people who run the museum would want to ban me from Amherst. Instead, they invited me to read there."

Wald also told Burak about the Replenishing the Shelves project, and Burak decided she wanted to help.

"I want my book to help bring some of her books back," Burak said.