About Whitman at 200
Walt Whitman’s 200th birthday on Friday, May 31st, 2019 provides an important opportunity to reassess his estimable contributions to American life at a time when our country is so polarized.
Organized by the University of Pennsylvania Libraries Kislak Center with major support from The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, this region-wide series of cultural events consists of four new artistic commissions plus a multitude of innovative exhibitions, performances, and programs initiated in conjunction with partner organizations across the Philadelphia and Camden, NJ region. While events take place all year, there is a focus on the two-week period, between May 24 and June 9, 2019, around Whitman's birthday.
Why Whitman? Whitman lived through and reflected on a period of uncertainty and change in American politics, culture, and society that in many ways mirrors our own. By underscoring the role of art and poetry in our lives and the particular relevance of Whitman today as a model for civic engagement, this multifaceted project explores how understanding our past informs our present and, more importantly, our future.
Most Philadelphians are unaware that Whitman spent the last two decades of his life in Camden, New Jersey, although the longest suspension bridge spanning the Delaware River is named for him in recognition of his importance to the region. He frequently traveled by ferry to Philadelphia to visit with friends and enjoy the city’s cultural life. This project situates Whitman in Philadelphia and its neighborhoods, connecting him to the life and art of the city and exploring what Philadelphia and Camden were then and are now.
Walt Whitman (1819–1892) is a colossal figure in American literature and art. Recognized internationally as the first major exponent of free verse, he has been called America's "poet of democracy.”