Thursday, February 11, 2010

11 February 1927: Carl Sandburg Speaks in Athens

On this day in 1927, poet and biographer Carl Sandburg spoke at the University of Georgia Chapel on "American Miscellany." In his talk, he discussed the nature of art, read from his poetry collections, told a few Rootabaga Tales, and discussed the Senate friendship between Abraham Lincoln and Alexander Stephens of Georgia. Coincidentally, February 11, 1927 was Stephens' 115th birthday.

Sandburg had recently published the first of his Lincoln biographies, the two-volume Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years, and was working on his 1928 poetry collection Good Morning, America. Among the poems he read to the assembled were How Much?, Prayers of Steel, Shenandoah, Wilderness, Chicago Poet, and Night Stuff.

At the time, Sandburg was in the process of compiling and editing The American Songbag, and had brought along his guitar to play some folk songs and spirituals for his audience, including one about the boll weevil, which had devastated Georgia cotton production over the previous decade.

The next week, The Red & Black student newspaper cited Sandburg's talk at the school as evidence of "new life in the University." Noting that "on last Friday morning the Chapel was packed" and "for over an hour he held his audience." The paper urged fellow students to "show their appreciation of these things by continuing to attend the different programs and being quiet and courteous while the speaker...endeavors to explain his part in interpreting American thoughts and aims."

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