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May 7, 2012

Library Marks Birthdays of Walt Whitman and Gwendolyn Brooks

The Library of Congress will celebrate the birthdays of two iconic American poets, Walt Whitman on May 31 and Gwendolyn Brooks on June 7.

Both programs will be held at noon in the Whittall Pavilion on the ground level of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C. The events are free and open to the public. No tickets are needed.

On Thursday, May 31, poets Stanley Plumly and Joshua Beckman will read from Whitman’s work and discuss his influence on their own writing. In addition, the Library’s Manuscript Division, which is co-sponsoring the event with the Library’s Poetry and Literature Center, will present a selection of holdings from its Whitman collection.

Whitman (1819-1892) is best known for his landmark "Leaves of Grass," a work he would revise and enlarge throughout his life. First published in 1855, the book garnered controversy for its unrestrained free-verse style and its frank treatment of sexuality, but found allies in such luminaries as Ralph Waldo Emerson, who called it "the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom America has yet contributed." It is now recognized as one of the foundational texts in American literature.

Plumly is the author of 10 books of poetry, most recently "Old Heart," and two volumes of nonfiction, including "Posthumous Keats: A Personal Biography." His honors include the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award and a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation. He is a professor of English at the University of Maryland.

Beckman is the author of six collections of poems, including "Shake," "Take It" and "Things Are Happening," which won the Annual Poetry Review/Honickman First Book Award. With Matthew Zapruder, he co-edited the 2008 anthology "State of the Union: 50 Political Poems." He is an editor for Wave Books.

On Thursday, June 7, poets Kyle Dargan and Janice Harrington will read from Brooks’ work and discuss her influence on their own writing. The Library’s Rare Book and Special Collections Division will co-sponsor the event with the Poetry and Literature Center and will present a selection of materials from its Brooks collection.

Brooks (1917-2000) was born in Topeka, Kansas and raised in Chicago. She published more than 20 books of poetry during her lifetime, as well as several works of fiction and autobiography. In 1950 she became the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize, and in 1985 the first African-American woman to serve as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, a position now known as U.S. Poet Laureate.

Dargan is the author of three collections of poetry, most recently "Logorrhea Dementia: A Self-Diagnosis." His honors include the Cave Canem Prize and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. He is the founding editor of the online magazine Post No Ills. He is a professor of literature at American University in Washington, D.C.

Harrington is the author of two volumes of poetry and two children’s books. She has received multiple awards and citations for her work, including the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize and the Kate Tufts Discovery Award for her first collection of poems, "Even the Hollow My Body Made Is Gone." She also landed a spot on Time Magazine’s Top 10 Children’s Books of 2007. Harrington is a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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PR 12-095
ISSN 0731-3527

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