Tag Archives: Walt Whitman

Nerdy Travelers Rejoice: A Bucket List of Literary Museums for Literary Travelers

21 Aug
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Bustle came out with a listicle entitled “9 Best Museum In The World for Book Lovers, Because There’s Nothing Like An Original Manuscript.” It has some fantastic recommendations that this nerdy traveler will undoubtedly be adding to her bucket list.
No list can ever be complete, so I’d like to add my recommendations:
The Beat Museum
It should come as no surprise that I’d recommend the Beat Museum in San Francisco. Not only can you see a huge collection of Beat Generation mementos, but there’s also a bookstore that sells first editions, signed copies, and other collectibles.
Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historical Site and Interpretive Center
Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historic Site and Interpretive Center out on Long Island is the place for fans of the Good Gray Poet. What I love about this museum is that it gives a snoopy look into the private home life of the poet and also keeps his tradition alive through contemporary poets. There’s also a wall in the museum that makes me think Whitman inspired Kim Kardashian….
Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace
Speaking of birthplaces, the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace is a must-see. (It’s currently closed but will reopen in a few months.) Oh, sure, he’s remembered today for being one of our presidents, but he was a prolific author, and his birthplace shows how he went from a sickly reader to a big-game hunter. I wrote about the museum in the introduction to his Hunting the Grisly.
Washington Irving’s Home
Washington Irving’s home, Sunnyside, in Sleepy Hollow, New York, is also a fun visit—particularly around Halloween! I went there a few years ago with a friend and to this day we still talk about it.
Junibacken Museum
I mentioned the Junibacken Museum, devoted to Astrid Lindgren’s works in Stockholm, Sweden, in a recent post. It’s particularly fun for children, but even adults may enjoy it.
The Writer’s Museum
I would also recommend The Writer’s Museum in Edinburgh, Scotland. My sister and I visited there quite a few years ago and saw the literary lives of Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson come to life. My sister does a mean Robert Burns impersonation.
Some people go to the beach on their vacations. I visit museums and bookstores.
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Shamed for Self-Publishing? Just Tell Them Walt Whitman Did It

2 Jun

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The Good Gray Poet in all his glory

Even though many successful — and I mean New York Times best-selling authors — authors have turned to self-publishing, self-publishing today still carries a certain stigma to it. Many readers think that if an author self-publishes, it means he or she failed at landing an agent or a publisher. That may be true for some authors.

However, there’s another truth.

There are some authors who self-publish and then get picked up by major publishers. There are other authors who never bother trying to place their work with so-called traditional publishers at all. Further, some authors have found critical and monetary success in traditional book publishing, and then have turned to self-publishing.

I am an editor at a book publishing house, so I’ll say that I have firsthand experience as to the many benefits of signing with a traditional publisher. That said, there are also benefits to self-publishing. I don’t think it’s an either/or situation. I think it’s a matter of knowing your strengths and knowing what works best for you and for your book.

There is no shame in making the decision to self-publish. It gives you complete creative control over your words. This includes selecting the title for your book. Many first-time authors don’t realize that, though they submit their book with a title idea, the editors, marketers, and publishers at traditional publishing houses have the final say and may completely alter your title. Same goes for cover. Most authors have little, if any say, as to their cover design. As a self-publisher, you make all the decisions. You also generally have a higher profit margin, though you personally will incur the cost of hiring an editor, hiring a cover designer, hiring someone to layout your interior pages, printing the book, marketing the book, shipping the book to retailers, and so forth. There’s an incredible amount of dedication and work that goes into self-publishing. It’s not the easier route.

And if someone still shames you for self-publishing, just tell them Walt Whitman did it.

Walt Whitman self-published the seminal poetry collection Leaves of Grass in Brooklyn in 1855. Bridges and schools have been named after him. His birth home is a pilgrimage for poets.

For the 150th anniversary of the self-published book, literary critic Harold Bloom said:

If you are American, then Walt Whitman is your imaginative father and mother, even if, like myself, you have never composed a line of verse. You can nominate a fair number of literary works as candidates for the secular Scripture of the United States. They might include Melville’s Moby-Dick, Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Emerson’s two series of Essays and The Conduct of Life. None of those, not even Emerson’s, are as central as the first edition of Leaves of Grass.

I don’t mind being in the company of Walt Whitman. Do you?

Walt Whitman Was the Original Kim Kardashian

1 Jun

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Walt Whitman himself!

If you visit the Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historic Site and Interpretive Center, you’ll notice that there are a LOT of photographs of the Good Gray Poet. I don’t mean three or four distinguished portraits artfully framed and hung. I mean an entire wall is covered with various portraits of the great American poet.

The tour guides at the museum will tell you that Whitman understood the power of portraiture as a branding tool and harnessed it for all it was worth when it came to marketing his literary output. In fact, he believed his self image was even greater than his name. When he published his poetry collection Leaves of Grass in 1855 he included Samuel Hollyer’s engraving of him in work clothes and a hat [pictured above] — and didn’t even bother including his own name on his book!

With all those selfies, you might say Walt Whitman was the original Kim Kardashian!

It’s Walt Whitman’s 196th Birthday! …Or a Post that Includes References to President Lincoln and Bon Jovi

31 May

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Here I am in 2013 standing outside Walt Whitman’s Birthplace State Historic Site and Interpretive Center in Long Island.

Walt Whitman was born on May 31, 1819, in Huntington, Long Island. He’s best known for Leaves of Grass. American schoolchildren are probably most familiar with the poem “O Captain! My Captain!” from the poetry collection. Written in 1865 and not included in Leaves of Grass until the fourth edition, the poem is about the death of President Abraham Lincoln.

There’s so much more to Whitman than that, though.

Walt Whitman is a complex and endlessly fascinating figure of the American poetry scene. He is regarded as the father of free verse poetry. He was also a reporter. He wrote a temperance novel: Franklin Evans (1842). He didn’t believe that all the works attributed to Shakespeare were actually Shakespeare’s. (Hm… what would Miguel Algarin say?) He at first called for the abolition of slavery … and then later thought the movement was a threat to democracy. He’s been inducted into the Legacy Walk, which celebrates LGBT history and people. He passed away in Camden, and the Garden State claimed him in the New Jersey Hall of Fame; that same year (2009), fellow literary luminaries William Carlos Williams and F. Scott Fitzgerald were inducted in the category of “general” while Whitman was inducted in the category of “historical.” (Jon Bon Jovi was one of the inductees honored in the category “arts and entertainment.) Andrew Carnegie said Whitman was “the great poet of America so far.”

“So far.”

Has any other “great poet of America” come along who has taken Whtiman’s place? It’s difficult to say, but this week we’ll be honoring the Good Gray Poet and talking about the poets that have been inspired by him.

Yep! You guessed it. The Beats.

Allen Ginsberg Channels Walt Whitman

23 Apr

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Allen Ginsberg hung a portrait of Walt Whitman in his home. He said his most memorable day as a student at Newark’s East Side High School was when his English teacher Francis Durbin read Whitman’s “Song of Myself” to the class. You can really hear a lot of Walt Whitman in Allen Ginsberg’s poetry. I mean, literally, he writes about Whitman in “A Supermarket in California.” More than just that, though, Ginsberg echoes Whitman’s themes. Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing” is one such poem that seems simply a more old-fashioned version of Ginsberg’s poetry.

Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing”

I HEAR America singing, the varied carols I hear;
Those of mechanics—each one singing his, as it should be, blithe and strong;
The carpenter singing his, as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his, as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work;
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat—the deckhand singing on the steamboat
deck;
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench—the hatter singing as he stands;
The wood-cutter’s song—the ploughboy’s, on his way in the morning, or at the noon
intermission, or at sundown;
The delicious singing of the mother—or of the young wife at work—or of the girl sewing or
washing—Each singing what belongs to her, and to none else;
The day what belongs to the day—At night, the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing, with open mouths, their strong melodious songs.
Though Ginsberg had some less kind words for America.

Jack Kerouac’s Angry Postcard to His Editor

24 Dec

In 1956, Viking Press expressed an interest in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.  The author had been writing and rewriting his novel for years, and Kerouac was growing impatient as it languished in the publishing house.  He was working with an editorial consultant named Malcolm Cowley, who had first gained renown for his 1929 book of poetry Blue Juniata before writing one of the first books about the Lost Generation.  Having been associated with the Lost Generation, it in many ways made sense that he was attracted to the Beat Generation.

By the 1940s he was editing Viking Portable editions.  He championed the work of William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Walt Whitman, Ernest Hemingway, and John Cheever.  His interest in Kerouac’s On the Road is important to literary history.  What many people forget is that Kerouac was already an established novelist before On the Road.  He’d written a semi-autobiographical novel entitled The Town and the City that got respectable reviews with comparisons to Thomas Wolfe but which tanked when it came to sales.  Kerouac had literary contacts, but selling On the Road still wasn’t easy.  Cowley was interested but took his sweet time getting back to Kerouac.

On July 9, 1956, Kerouac sent him a postcard depicting the Lower Falls in Yellowstone National Park threatening to sell On the Road elsewhere if he didn’t receive his contract and advance from Viking.  You can read Kerouac’s postcard to Malcolm Cowley (as well as 14 other postcards from authors) at Flavorwire.