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Celebrate Walt Whitman’s Legacy at the Library of Congress Young Readers Center on June 1 (Tomorrow!)

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We are reposting this blog post from the “From the Catbird Seat”. We hope you are able to join us tomorrow for the Whitman birthday celebration.

The following guest post is by Sasha Dowdy, program specialist in the Library’s Young Readers Center.

To have great poets, there must be great audiences.

So said Walt Whitman, the famous 19th century American poet born on this day in 1819. And most would say Whitman became that great poet with even greater audiences: Whitman was well-renowned in his time and became legend; he left a vast, genre-defying legacy for poets, of course, but also philosophers, filmmakers, spiritualists, marketing directors, children and teens, and more—spanning generations and leaping over the barriers that separate us from each other. His poetry endures, as does his respectful love of nature, and as do his words that emerged from his struggle to understand himself, his fellow humans, and the world around him.

We invite you to join that great audience as the Library celebrates Whitman’s 200th birthday with children, teens, and their families tomorrow, June 1st.

I celebrate myself, and sing myself.

Walt Whitman, half-length portrait, seated, facing left, wearing hat and sweater, holding butterfly. Photograph by Phillips & Taylor, Philadelphia, 1873. Prints and Photographs Division.
Walt Whitman, half-length portrait, seated, facing left, wearing hat and sweater, holding butterfly. Photograph by Phillips & Taylor, Philadelphia, 1873. Prints and Photographs Division.

The Library of Congress houses the largest archival collection of Walt Whitman materials in the world, and Walt Whitman’s 200th birthday is the perfect time to celebrate this poet’s legacy as preserved in our nation’s Library. Families are invited to the Library on Saturday, June 1st (the day after Whitman’s actual birthday) to participate in many programs hosted by the Young Readers Center on this day and more closely get to know Walt Whitman and the inspiration that he poured out into the world.

Here’s what we have planned:

  • 10 AM: Author Robert Burleigh and illustrator Sterling Hundley will discuss their children’s book O Captain, My Captain: Walt Whitman, Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. Dramatic, lyrical, and beautifully illustrated, O Captain, My Captain tells the story of one of America’s greatest poets and how he was inspired by one of America’s greatest presidents. (Abrams, 2019). Signed books will be available for purchase and personalization.
  • 11 AM: The birthday party!: A celebration full of poetry, music, and joyful noise! The birthday party will last for 15 minutes, but the celebration keeps going all day. Make a paper butterfly just like the one seen in this photograph of Walt Whitman in 1873, write your own poetry, and pick up some tips on how to revel in a fully immersive nature walk, just like Whitman did.
  • 12 PM to 4 PM: Families are invited to participate in the Library’s crowdsourcing initiative “By the People” and help transcribe selections from Whitman’s writings and papers to make them more searchable and accessible online. This project will help Whitman’s words reach and inspire even more people all over the globe.

I exist as I am, that is enough.

Whitman’s poetry is famous for many things, but a pervasive theme is optimism in darkness. He struggled with the difficult topics of his time, but he never stopped trying to figure them out. He was not always right, and he was not always wrong. He accepted himself as he was, full of questions and learning, and saw the beautiful potential in all people around him.

Join us to celebrate and learn about this interesting figure in America’s history, gather inspiration, and “produce joy”!

Register for the event here:

Happy Birthday, Walt Whitman!

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