The Library of Congress celebrates 200 years of Walt Whitman

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The Library of Congress will celebrate the 200th anniversary of American poet and changemaker Walt Whitman’s birthday this spring.

Whitman was born May 31, 1819 and the Library’s bicentennial series is part of a yearlong initiative that invites visitors to Explore America’s Changemakers.

The Library holds the most extensive collection of Whitman’s writings and artifacts in the world including manuscripts, rare books, prints and photographs.

During the bicentennial celebration a series of exhibits, public programs and a digital crowdsourcing campaign will showcase the collection of writings and artifacts.

Collection items range from handwritten drafts of poems to rare editions of “Leaves of Grass,” as well as Whitman’s eyeglasses and walking stick.

The crowdsourcing initiative “By the People” will launch a campaign April 24th to enlist the public to help transcribe more than 121,000 pages of Whitman’s writings and papers to make them more searchable and accessible online.

Documents selected for transcription will include samples of Whitman’s poetry, prose and correspondence, including versions of poems such as “Oh Captain! My Captain!” and fragments of poems Whitman published in more finished form in “Leaves of Grass.”

This is also a special opportunity for teachers and students to engage with Whitman’s creative process. Drafts and portions of his poems at various stages of composition reveal his active, creative mind, as well as his innovative ways of seeing the world and wordsmithing poetic expressions.

Whitman worked as a schoolteacher, printer, newspaper editor, journalist, carpenter, freelance writer and civil servant. During the Civil War, he volunteered in military hospitals in Washington D.C. to provide emotional support to wounded soldiers.

Walt Whitman is best known as one of America’s most famous poets.

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