Becoming Whitman

October 25, 2019

How did a carpenter’s son, grammar school dropout, and sometime hack writer become America’s poet? Scholar Karen Karbiener traces the extraordinary transformation of Walter Whitman Jr. to “Walt Whitman, a kosmos, of Manhattan the son,” a saint-like Civil War nurse, and the iconic “Good Gray Poet.” Whitman’s story will be enhanced by discussions of highlights from the Athenæum’s current Whitman exhibition, as well as selected poems.


Karen Karbiener is a Whitman scholar and teaches at New York University. Winner of the Kluge Fellowship at the Library of Congress and a Fulbright recipient, she has published widely on Whitman, including an edition of Leaves of Grass, two audiobooks on Whitman’s life and influence, a book introducing Whitman’s poetry to children, and a collaboration with illustrator Brian Selznick on Live Oak, with Moss, a new edition of Whitman’s secret same-sex love poems. She was the co-curator with collector Susan Tane of Poet of the Body: New York’s Walt Whitman, a major exhibition at New York’s Grolier Club (May 15 – July 27, 2019), and the author of a book of the same title. Ms. Karbiener is the president and founding member of the Walt Whitman Initiative, a 501c3 nonprofit organization serving as an organizing center for cultural activism and poetry-related events. Please see the WWI website for information on the organization’s various initiatives (including landmarking Whitman’s last standing house in New York City, at 99 Ryerson Street) and for news on the Whitman 2019 Consortium, a collective of organizations offering programs in honor of Whitman’s 200th birthday.

This season was generously sponsored by the following friends and partners:

Categories: History, Literature & Poetry