October 5, 2011 Birthday Celebration for American Poet John Berryman, Oct. 25

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The Library of Congress will celebrate the birthday of American poet John Berryman, who would have been 97 this year, with a reading of his work by award-winning poets Mary Jo Bang and Michael Collier.

The celebration will be held at noon on Tuesday, Oct. 25, in the Whittall Pavilion on the ground level of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C. The event is free and open to the public; no tickets are needed.

In addition, there will be a short presentation by the Library’s Rare Book and Special Collections Division on its Berryman holdings. Some of the items, including first printings and signed copies of Berryman’s most famous volumes, will be on display.

Berryman was born John Smith in McAlester, Okla., on Oct. 25, 1914. An acclaimed scholar and poet, he taught at Wayne State University in Detroit and went on to occupy posts at Harvard and Princeton. From 1955 until his death in 1972, he was a professor at the University of Minnesota. His best-known work is “77 Dream Songs,” which won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.

In a review for The New York Times, poetry critic Edward Hirsch said Berryman “must have the most idiosyncratic voice in American poetry. It is by turns quirky and whimsical, brilliantly learned and painfully mannered, smart-alecky, anguished.” Berryman was a fellow of the Academy of American Poets and served as chancellor from 1968 until 1972.

Bang and Collier, in addition to reading selections of Berryman’s poetry, will discuss his influence on their own writing.

Bang is the author of six books of poems, including “Elegy,” which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year” in 2008. Her many honors include a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation, a Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University and a Pushcart Prize in 2003. She is a professor of English at Washington University in St. Louis.

Collier is a poet, editor and director of the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference. His poetry collections include “The Neighbor” and “The Ledge.” He also has edited two anthologies of poetry. Collier has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation and the Thomas Watson Foundation. He teaches at the University of Maryland, and he is the former Poet Laureate of the state of Maryland.

The Rare Book and Special Collections Division at the Library of Congress holds more than 800,000 books, broadsides, pamphlets, theater playbills, title pages, prints, posters, photographs, and medieval and Renaissance manuscripts. More than 100 collections are maintained, including the personal libraries of Harry Houdini and Susan B. Anthony, author collections of Walt Whitman and Hans Christian Andersen, subject collections on gastronomy and cryptography, and generic collections such as dime novels and Bibles. At the center is Thomas Jefferson's book collection, which was sold to Congress in 1815.

The Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress fosters and enhances the public’s appreciation of literature. The center administers the endowed poetry chair (the U.S. Poet Laureate), and coordinates an annual literary season of poetry, fiction and drama readings, performances, lectures and symposia, sponsored by the Library’s Gertrude Clarke Whittall Poetry and Literature Fund and the Huntington Fund. For more information, visit www.loc.gov/poetry/.


PR 11-185
ISSN 0731-3527