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Poet of the Future: Celebrating the Bicentennial of the Birth of Walt Whitman

March 15, 2019
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The exhibition Poet of the Future: Celebrating the Bicentennial of the Birth of Walt Whitman is part of the national celebration of a towering figure in American literature. Installed in the Special Collections and University Archives Gallery from March 26 to July 19, the exhibition features rare first editions of Whitman’s work published during his lifetime along with unique manuscripts in the poet’s hand, press books, and artists’ books issued from 1904, a few years after Whitman’s death, to the present.

The exhibition opening will be held on Tuesday, March 26, 2019 at 6:00 p.m. in the Teleconference Lecture Hall on the fourth floor of the Alexander Library.

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Parking has been reserved in Lots 26, 30 and the College Avenue Deck. Please register your vehicle in advance.

As well as being among the most influential of American poets, Whitman was among the most photogenic and often-photographed. The exhibition includes numerous selections from the Libraries’ holdings of Whitman portraits and artistic revisualizations, ranging from the 1854 portrait rendered by Samuel Hollyer and published in the first edition of Leaves of Grass to a 2019 linoleum cut homage to Hollyer and Whitman. Some exhibition highlights include a working draft of Whitman’s “Hush’d be the Camps Tonight,” the first of his poems written after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln; a first edition of Leaves of Grass, for which Whitman set some of the type; a signed later edition of Leaves of Grass bearing a stanza written in a contemporary hand thought to be Whitman’s; a copy of the so-called Author’s Edition of Leaves of Grass that was in the poet’s room when he died, and which includes a letter Whitman tipped-into the volume. The exhibition also features Edward Weston’s brilliantly illustrated two-volume Leaves of Grass (1940); the first appearance of Whitman’s temperance novel, Franklin Evans, or The Inebriate, published in The New-World in 1842; and a copy of Richard Bigus’s Out of the Cradle, Endlessly Rocking, in which the swirling, vorticial typography and color overlays seek to recreate and reanimate the poem’s pulsing rhythms.

The exhibition opening festivities will feature two prominent speakers whose talks will focus on the convergence of the visual and the verbal in Walt Whitman’s poetry. Karen Karbiener, a Whitman scholar based at New York University will speak about the celebrated portrait in the first edition (1855) of Leaves of Grass, and Barbara Henry, printer and poet, about how Whitman’s training as a printer influenced his work as a poet, with a particular emphasis on the poem “Faces.”

On April 23—coincidentally Shakespeare’s birthday—there will be reading from Leaves of Grass. The panel of readers has yet to be fully set, but so far includes Cheryl Clarke, Rachel Hadas, Barbara Henry, and Michael Joseph. Anyone interested in participating as a reader should contact Michael Joseph at mjoseph@libraries.rutgers.edu.