Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

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Walt Whitman (1819-1892) was the author of 12 books of poetry and five prose books. He studied literature passionately from an early age, first learning the trade of publishing at the age of 12. He was a printer until a large fire ruined the industry in New York City; he then taught in one-room schoolhouses at only 17 and continued teaching for five years. Whitman then went on to pursue work in journalism. He founded the weekly newspaper Long-Islander and edited several newspapers including Brooklyn’s Daily Eagle and the New Orleans Crescent. During his time working at the latter newspaper, he saw the brutality of slavery and was inspired to go back to Brooklyn and found a “free soil” newspaper called the Brooklyn Freeman. He wrote his own poetry and published the first edition of his book Leaves of Grass in 1855. He went on to publish several more editions of this collection, continuing to add more poems. Whitman later wrote freelance journalism and visited the wounded from the war in New York-area hospitals, and then moved to Washington, DC to visit his injured brother. He opted to stay in DC and work in the hospitals for 10 years, as he was deeply moved by the suffering of the wounded and felt called to heal. He worked as a clerk for the Department of the Interior until the Secretary fired him because he found his poetry in Leaves of Grass offensive. Whitman experienced financial trouble throughout his adult life, partially because he did not have a high salary and partially because he spent any extra money on caring for his patients or visiting ailing family members in various states. Other writers often sent him money to help support him. Whitman was fascinated by the concept of courage to overcome even the greatest psychological, political, and moral boundaries. His poetry was uniquely elegant and often spoke of nature. A few more of his books were called Drum Taps (1865), and Democratic Vistas (1871).

http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/126 AND http://www.poemhunter.com/walt-whitman/ Beltway Poetry Quarterly, "Whitman in Washington" by Kim Roberts, Volume 4:4, Fall 2003: http://washingtonart.com/beltway/whitman.html "DC Celebrates Whitman: 150 Years of Leaves of Grass": http://washingtonart.com/whitman/walt.html Rainbow History Project, "Whitman in DC: Gay DC Walking Tours" by Martin G. Murray and Kim Roberts: http://www.rainbowhistory.org/pdf/whitman-web.pdf Washington Friends of Walt Whitman: http://www.whitmandc.org/

Written by Monica Root, December 2013.


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