The University of Memphis Department of Theatre & Dance will host a presentation by illustrator Brian Selznick and world-renowned Walt Whitman scholar Karen Karbeinar on Thursday, Nov. 21, from 1 to 2:20 p.m. at the University of Memphis Mainstage Theatre.
Selznick is the creator of many beloved books, including The New York Times bestseller The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which was the basis for Martin Scorsese’s Oscar winning movie Hugo. Karbiener is an internationally recognized scholar of Walt Whitman and currently teaches at New York University.
“Walt Whitman was one of our great American poets,” Sarah Brown, event organizer and professor of performance with the UofM Department of Theatre & Dance, said. “He celebrated the life of the spirit, the mind and wrote with rich, controversial sensuality about the human form.”
In 1859, Whitman handmade a small journal wherein he began to write a series of poems about his romantic and sexual attraction to men. He titled the series of poems Live Oak, With Moss. He told no one about these poems. However, he finally decided to immortalize them in a secretive way by taking them apart, editing them, and intermixing them with poems that comprised the ninth edition of Leaves of Grass so they would remain hidden and their subject matter would remain disguised.
“These poems, in fact, were hidden in Leaves of Grass for almost a hundred years,” Brown said.
In 1953, these poems were discovered, and put back together in their original, unedited form by the scholar Fredson Bowers. In April of 2019, the poems were published in a book, also titled Live Oak, with Moss, and framed with poignant illustrations by Selznick, with an afterward written by Karbeiner.
“It’s a perfect moment for these poems with the current national dialogue we’re having about diversity, safe zones and including everyone’s dream of love,” Brown said.
The upcoming presentation will discuss the significance of the poems featured in Live Oak, With Moss, as well as Selznick’s illustrations and the relevance of this publication to the LGBTQIA+ community. Brian and Karen’s presentation will be preceded by a 10-minute dance performance directed by Assistant Professor of Dance Michael Medcalf featuring six UofM dance majors in a visual response to Whitman’s poetry. Selznick will then present a lecture about his contributions to the book, followed by an additional lecture from Karbeiner on the relevance of Whitman’s work in modern times. The event will conclude with a live Q&A session.