Celebrate Walt Whitman’s 200th birthday in Brooklyn

May 30, 2019 Meaghan McGoldrick and Sara Bosworth
This Friday marks Walt Whitman's 200th birthday. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan

Friday marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Walt Whitman, one of America’s (and Brooklyn’s) most influential poets and writers. Whitman, an editor of the mid-19th Century  Brooklyn Eagle, was born in West Hills, New York, on May 31, 1819.

He moved to Brooklyn at age 4 and lived here, on and off, for nearly four decades. Whitman’s Clinton Hill home has yet to be landmarked, but the borough is finding other ways to celebrate the big 2-0-0.

Whether you’d rather celebrate by learning (nerd), performing (showoff), or growing a beard (…très Brooklyn), we’ve rounded up what’s going on for your literary pleasure.

Friday

‘Walt Whitman’s Birthday Party!’

The Fort Greene branch of the Brooklyn Public Library (which shares a name with the guest of honor) will mark Whitman’s milestone birthday with… a birthday party (duh).

There will be ice cream, cupcakes and a celebratory community reading of “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” at 4 p.m., to take place simultaneously with readings of the poem at all 59 BPL branches.

Friday, May 31, from 3-5 p.m. at the Walt Whitman Library (93 Edwards St.). More info here.

Walt Whitman at 200

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Downtown Brooklyn will also celebrate the “Bard of Brooklyn” on his birthday — this time, with poetry and music. Along with the community reading of “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” the Albee Square plaza’s shindig will include a performance by the Phil Woodmore singers, as well as readings from poets Dorianne Laux and Joseph Millar.

Friday, May 31, from 3:30-5:30 p.m. at Albee Square (the intersection of Fulton Street, DeKalb Avenue, and Albee Square West). More info here.

“What Is It, Then, Between Us?”: Celebrating 200 Years of Walt Whitman

Brooklyn Poets will celebrate Walt Whitman’s 200th birthday with a celebratory reading by winners of the namesake poet’s bicentennial poetry contest. Three winners from three different age brackets (13 through 17, 18 through 22 and 23-and-up) who judges found best answered the lasting question from “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,”: “What is it, then, between us?” will read from their own work as well as from Whitman’s.

The event is free and open to the public — and there will be wine! Hors d’oeuvres, too, with a reception to follow.

Friday, May 31, at 7:30 p.m. at Smack Mellon (92 Plymouth St.) More info here.

Sunday

Whitman Was Here: Walt Whitman in Coney Island (And a rooftop after-party!)

It’s a beach party! Parachute Library Arts is hosting a bicentennial birthday party for Walt Whitman in one of his favorite places – Coney Island! The party starts at 3 p.m. on the historic Riegelmann Boardwalk at West 21st Street and includes a daylong lineup of poetry, music, free workshops and site-specific walks.

The party will continue at 7 p.m. on Kitchen 21’s rooftop (the landmark Childs Building) where Bushwick Book Club will present new music in response to Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.”

The best part? All of it is free. Reservations are encouraged.

Sunday, June 2, from 3- 9 p.m. on the Coney Island Boardwalk (the boardwalk at West 21st Street). More info here.

New York’s 16th Annual “Song of Myself” Marathon: StoneWalt Edition

The Walt Whitman Initiative will mark its namesake poet’s 200th birthday with a recitation of Whitman’s “Song of Myself” at The Granite Prospect at Brooklyn Bridge Park. “Yawps,” are encouraged, according to organizers, who are asking Whitman fans to email their favorite three sections of the book (using the 1891-1892 edition’s breakdown of 52 sections) to Karen Karbiener at [email protected].

Original interpretations of those passages are also encouraged. Birthday or Stonewall themes are also encouraged for this year’s “marathon.”

Sunday, June 2, from 4-6:30 p.m. at Granite Prospect at Brooklyn Bridge Park. More info here.

Next week

Karen Karbeiner and Brian Selznick present Whitman’s Live Oak, with Moss

If you prefer Whitman’s lesser-known work, you can head to Greenlight Bookstore to hear a Whitman scholar and famed illustrator discuss their latest project: an edition of 12 previously little-known Whitman poems on the theme of same-sex love in which the poet reflects on his attractions and affections for other men.

Thursday, June 6, at 7:30 p.m. at Greenlight Bookstore (686 Fulton St.). More info here.

Walt Whitman Beard & Mustache Competition

If you take pride in your facial hair, why not show it off in the name of poetry? Compete in categories like Barbaric Yawp (best natural moustache), Sea Drift (best styled beard) and Grey Poet (best in show). Plus, see Coney Island performance artist Adam Realman and “Too Woke” comedian Nore Davis. Don’t you want that stache-ffirmation?

Saturday, June 8, from 12-3 p.m. at Walt Whitman Library (93 Edwards St.). More info here.

Later this month

Uncovering Walt Whitman’s Queer Private Life

The Brooklyn Historical Society will take a deep dive into Whitman’s most private — and sexual — poetry at a talk on Karen Karbeiner and Brian Selznick’s rendition of “Live Oak, with Moss.” These pieces of work remained largely unknown — until now.

Tuesday, June 11, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Brooklyn Historical Society (128 Pierrepont St.). More info here.

A Walking Tour of DUMBO

You can trace Walt Whitman’s steps along the Brooklyn waterfront, as portrayed in the visionary “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” On the heels of the poet’s bicentennial birthday, Greg Trupiano and Stefan Killen will lead a tour through DUMBO while pointing to literary themes of water, time and “our interconnected modern, democratic life in America.”

The tour, presented in partnership with The Walt Whitman Project, ends at BHS DUMBO, located in the Empire Stores, for a visit to the Waterfront exhibit. Tickets are $20 ($15 for members of the Brooklyn Historical Society).

Saturday, June 15, from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Fulton Ferry landing and again on Monday, July 15 at 6 p.m. More info here.

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