Contact: Audrey Fischer (202) 707-0022

July 30, 1999

November Poetry Reading Planned in Observance of Library's Bicentennial

On November 10, the Library of Congress will present "Sharing the Gifts: Readings by Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky; Special Consultants Rita Dove, Louise Glück and W.S. Merwin; and 1999 Witter Bynner Fellows David Gewanter, Campbell McGrath and Heather McHugh." The readings will take place at 8 p.m. in the Coolidge Auditorium on the ground floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E. Tickets are not required.

In preparation for the Bicentennial of the Library of Congress in 2000, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington in April announced a "once-in-a-century" series of appointments for the Library's poetry program. Robert Pinsky, the award-winning translator of The Inferno of Dante and a creative writing professor at Boston University, agreed to serve an unprecedented third term as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. In addition, the Librarian has named three Special Consultants to assist with the Bicentennial poetry programs: former Poet Laureate Dove, Ms. Glück and Mr. Merwin. The November 10 reading is the first of the two joint appearances by the poets during the Library's Bicentennial year. The other will be during a poetry symposium on April 3-4, 2000.

"The three Special Consultants are, like Mr. Pinsky, poets of great distinction who, in addition to participating in these two events, will help strengthen the Library's poetry program to meet the national demands now expected of it," said Dr. Billington.

Mr. Gewanter, Ms. McGrath and Ms. McHugh, who are also reading in the program, were named 1999 Witter Bynner Fellows by Mr. Pinsky. The Witter Bynner Foundation is providing funding to the Library over a five-year period so that the incumbent Poet Laureate may choose two or more poets each year to receive a fellowship. These fellowships are used to support the writing of poetry. Only two things were asked of the fellows: that they participate in a poetry reading at the Library of Congress and that they organize a poetry reading in their local areas.

These readings were part of the Favorite Poem Project that Mr. Pinsky is spearheading as Poet Laureate. The Favorite Poem Project, one of the Library's Bicentennial projects, was launched in 1997, during Mr. Pinsky's first term as Poet Laureate, when President and Mrs. Clinton read their favorite poems at the White House. It will end on April 3-4, 2000, during a symposium on the reading, performance and publication of poetry in the 19th and 20th centuries, when Mr. Pinsky presents 200 video and 1,000 audio tapes of these Favorite Poem readings to the Library.

Mr. Pinsky is currently selecting a broad cross section of Americans reading their favorite poems aloud from the thousands of submissions that have been made across the country. As part of the Library's celebration of its 200th birthday, Mr. Pinsky will give the tapes to the Library, which will make them available to the public as one of its Bicentennial birthday "Gifts to the Nation."

"It will be a record, at the end of the century, of what we Americans choose, and what we do with our voices and faces, when asked to say aloud a poem that we love," said Mr. Pinsky.

The tapes of everyday people reading poems by their favorite writers will be added to the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature, which has recordings of 2,000 poets and authors reading their work. Among them are Robert Penn Warren, Robert Frost, Maxine Kumin and Gwendolyn Brooks.

The Favorite Poem Project is a partnership among Robert Pinsky, the New England Foundation for the Arts, the Library of Congress and Boston University. It has received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The Library of Congress, founded April 24, 1800, is the nation's oldest federal cultural institution. It preserves a collection of 115 million items - more than two-thirds of which are in media other than books. These include the largest map and film and television collections in the world. In addition to its primary mission of serving the research needs of the U.S.Congress, the Library serves all Americans through its popular Web site ( and in its 23 reading rooms on Capitol Hill.

"We will celebrate with pride our first 200 years of Library history," said Dr.Billington. "During that time, the Library has grown into the world's largest repository of knowledge and creativity, which it has preserved for all generations of Americans. We want to take advantage of this opportunity to energize national awareness of the critical role that all libraries play in keeping the spirit of creativity and free inquiry alive in our society."

The Poetry and Literature Center, which administers the poetry series, is also the home of the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, a position that has existed since 1936, when the late philanthropist Archer M. Huntington endowed the Chair of Poetry at the Library of Congress. Archibald MacLeish, who was Librarian from 1939 to 1944, determined the Consultant in Poetry should be an annual appointment. Since then, many of the nation's most eminent poets have served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress and, after the passage of Public Law 99-194 in 1985, as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry.

Interpreting services (American Sign Language, Contact Signing, Oral and/or Tactile) will be provided if requested five business days in advance of the reading. Call (202) 707-6362 TTY and voice to make a specific request. For other ADA accommodations, contact the Disability Employment Office at (202) 707-9948 TTY and (202) 707-7544 voice.

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PR 99-099
ISSN 0731-3527

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