The following post is part of our From the Catbird Seat series, “Literary Treasures.” The monthly series champions the Library’s literary programming by highlighting audio and video recordings drawn from the Library’s extensive online collections, including the recently released Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature. The series, by showcasing the works and thoughts of some of the greatest poets and writers from the past 75 years, helps further the Library’s mission to “further the progress of knowledge and creativity for the benefit of the American people.”
Among the 30-40 literary programs our office administers annually, we proudly feature a literary birthday series, which has celebrated past poets and prose writers ranging from Vladimir Nabokov to Countee Cullen since 2012. The reason I think this series is so enriching is because it not only celebrates the late legacies of literature’s most highly regarded authors, but it also highlights how such legacies live on through contemporary authors writing today. The structure is this: for each literary figure celebrated, on or as close to their birthday as possible, two living writers talk about the influence gleaned from the celebrant’s work and how their own work has transformed because of it. The series also typically features holdings from the Library’s collections, which is a great way for our audience to get a closer look at some of the past writers’ rare books, photographs, epistolary exchanges, etc. Some of my favorite literary birthday celebrations include Edna St. Vincent Millay, celebrated by poets Claudia Emerson and Alicia Ostriker; Zora Neale Hurston, celebrated by prose writers Dolen Perkins-Valdez and Marita Golden; Walt Whitman, celebrated by poets Mark Doty and Sally Keith; and Ralph Ellison, celebrated by prose writers Danielle Evans and Jabari Asim. My list goes on, but I’ll leave you with the below, another favorite of mine, and February’s featured webcast: Literary Birthday Celebration: Gwendolyn Brooks. Poets Kyle Dargan and Janice Harrington celebrate Brooks, who served as Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress between 1985-1986, and read from their own work.
Do you attend our Literary Birthday Celebrations? If so, which is your favorite so far? If not, please do! Click here to see our events calendar.