2019 marks both UCLA’s centennial and the bicentennial of Walt Whitman. To celebrate, UCLA Writing Programs proudly presents Whitmania, a constellation of arts and humanities events exploring the legacy of a foundational figure in American culture. Often described as the father of free verse and America’s first bard of democracy, Whitman is one of the world’s most influential poets, and the hallmarks of his work are those of UCLA itself when we are at our best: radical optimism and community engagement for the greater good. As Dr. Karen Prior explains in a 2016 article in The Atlantic, Whitman’s claim that “‘the United States are essentially the greatest poem’” stems from “a belief that both poetry and democracy derive their power from their ability to create a unified whole out of disparate parts—a notion that is especially relevant at a time when America feels bitterly divided.” Particularly now, in an era of divisive pessimism, it is vital to highlight the ways in which Whitman’s spirit is still needed and lives on.
Whitmania brings together diverse UCLA faculty who are scholars and artists in a variety of disciplines, students, staff, special guests from as far as New York City, as well as the larger Los Angeles creative community, and the general public. Through free performances, readings, workshops and more that we are producing in and beyond southern California in the spring and fall of 2019, Whitmania illuminates the radical optimism that unites Whitman and UCLA while allowing for an embodied exploration of Dr. Kenneth Price’s central claim in To Walt Whitman, America (UNC Press, 2014) “that Whitman is so central to practices and formulations of American culture, past and present, that we may use his life, work, ideas, and influence to examine major patterns in our culture over the last 150 years.” Since Whitman’s bicentennial is being commemorated widely across the nation and even internationally, Whitmania is also notable as the largest west coast celebration of the Good Gray Poet.
Whitmania Organizing Committee
Amber West, Creator, Director, Producer, Lead Artist
Susannah Rodríguez Drissi, Producer, Lead Artist
Dana Cairns Watson
UCLA Writing Programs
UCLA Arts Initiative
Office of Interdisciplinary & Cross Campus Affairs
Center for the Art of Performance
Department of English
Latin American Institute
Undergraduate Writing Center
UCLA Residential Life
LGBTQ Studies Program
Center for the Study of Women
About Writing Programs
Writing Programs cultivates critical thinkers and effective communicators for the betterment of our global society. Housed within the Humanities Division of UCLA College, Writing Programs serves the entire campus community through a diverse array of courses, workshops, trainings, and partnerships, including a Professional Writing minor, Graduate Certificate in Writing Pedagogy, as well as peer learning services provided by our Undergraduate Writing Center. Our faculty and staff foster transformative learning experiences that provide students with formative opportunities to appreciate their collective diversity, grow their skills and confidence, and enhance their sense of belonging. For more information visit http://wp.ucla.edu.
About Whitmania’s Director
Whitmania creator and director, Dr. Amber West is a poet, theatremaker, producer, scholar, and educator. She is founder of Alphabet Arts, a multi-genre artist collective for whom she created, produced and directed the Puppets & Poets hybrid arts festival at the Obie-winning Bushwick Starr theater in NYC from 2011-15. During her decade in Brooklyn, NY, West was a frequent participant in the “Song of Myself” Marathon reading held each spring on the waterfront near Brooklyn Bridge. Leaving NYC in 2016 to accept a position at UCLA, she vowed to bring this amazing event to the west coast to help illuminate the democratic spirit and radical optimism that Whitman reminds us is the soul of America, and which she quickly learned is also the heart of UCLA. The author of two books of poetry, Daughter Eraser (Finishing Line Press, 2015) and Hen & God (The Word Works, 2017), West lives in North Hollywood with her husband, actor Sam T. West, and their son whose middle name is Whitman. She is a full-time faculty member with UCLA Writing Programs. For more information visit http://amberiwest.com.
UCLA Writing Programs is proud to be part of the Whitman 2019 Consortium and the Walt Whitman Initiative, an international collective bringing together all people interested in the life and work of Walt Whitman. Learn more here about celebrations of Whitman’s bicentennial happening nationally and beyond.