In this episode, we’ll discuss the life and work of iconic poet Walt Whitman, who grew up in working-class New York City and was largely self taught. Whitman’s poems celebrated America, freedom, and individualism. His unconventional free verse, without rhyme or meter, shocked many readers but others found Whitman’s style and voice distinctly American and democratic. Whitman’s legacy on American culture and writing is indelible even today, as his work is referenced in popular culture such as Breaking Bad, Levi’s commercials, and more.
For this episode we are pleased to speak with three fans and scholars of Whitman. Rosanna Young Oh is a Korean American poet and essayist who was born in South Korea, and grew up on Long Island. She is the author of The Corrected Version, which is her first book and is influenced by Whitman, who also grew up on Long Island. Margaret Guardi currently serves as the Historian and Assistant Curator at the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association. And finally, Cynthia Shor, who is the Executive Director of the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association. You can read their full bios below.
Rossanna, Margaret, and Cynthia are interviewed by Nate King, Digital Content Associate at the American Writers Museum. This conversation originally took place May 22, 2023 and was recorded over Zoom.
ROSANNA YOUNG OH is a Korean American poet and essayist who was born in South Korea, and grew up on Long Island. She is the author of The Corrected Version, which is her first book. Her writing has appeared or are forthcoming in publications such as Literary Hub, Best New Poets, Harvard Review Online, Blackbird, The Hopkins Review, and 32 Poems, and has received honors that include scholarships from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and New York State Writers Institute. Her poetry was also the subject of a solo exhibition at the Queens Historical Society, where she was an artist-in-residence. A graduate of Yale, the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she lives and writes in New York.
MARGARET GUARDI received her BA in Literature at SUNY Oneonta. As a Post Graduate there, she received a NYS Permanent Certificate in Secondary Education, English. Margaret has had a lifetime interest in historical costume, and she has been a former member of Costume Society of America. She served six years as a Board Member of The Huntington Historical Society, 2007 – 2013, and since 2002, she has been a Collections Committee member. She currently serves as their Registrar and Exhibit Curator. Margaret has been associated with the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association (WWBA) since 1998 when she began volunteering as a Museum Guide. She became a staff member in 2005, and currently serves as Historian and Assistant Curator. She developed the Victorian Tea Party event for adults whereby she offers an historical lecture that places the Victorian Tea in a Whitman era context, presented while guests partake in an elegant Victorian Tea luncheon. Margaret has a great interest in Long Island history and genealogy, particularly of the Whitman family descendants. In 2014, she accompanied the WWBA Executive Director to Florida to accept a donation of a Whitman Family Bible. While there, she presented a lecture on the Whitman family history, focusing on Whitman’s sister, Mary Elizabeth, to whom the Bible was originally presented as a Christmas gift in 1878 by Walt. Margaret’s interest in historic Long Island was developed through self-study, travel, and original research. She obtains much of her information from historic newspapers and original sources. Her work has resulted in newly discovered material on Walt Whitman and the Whitman family. She is currently collaborating with WWBA Honorary Trustee Karen Karbeiner, PhD, on research articles incorporating this new material. Karbeiner, a Whitman Scholar, has been a frequent contributor to The Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, published by the University of Iowa, In collaboration, Margaret and Karen, will be adding to the historic legacy of Walt Whitman.
CYNTHIA SHOR, BA (NYU), MA in Lit. (American U), and PhD Candidate in Eng. Ed. (NYU), has been the Executive Director of the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association (WWBA) since 2006. She was an NYU Teaching Fellow and Instructor in the Steinhardt School of Teaching and Learning 1994-2014 and received the NYU Teaching Excellence Award in 2005. She is Director Emerita of the NYU College of Arts and Science Board of Trustees and currently serves on its Nominating Committee. She is a published poet and has taught Literature courses in the Great Neck Adult Education Program from 1985-2000 and received award recognition for her work. As WWBA Executive Director, she manages the NY State Historic Site where Walt was born in 1819, which includes arranging all cultural arts programs and the various Family Day events, collaborating with community organizations for historic, educational and social programs, and overseeing personnel, supervising Interns, collections management, school programs and student events. She is supervising the Technology Exhibit Renovation which opened in May 2019 and is managing the program and events for Whitman’s 2019 Bicentennial Birthday Celebration at the Birthplace.