Walt Whitman’s Lost Novel to be Presented at Texas A&M University

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While most know of Walt Whitman as a poet and journalist, a recent discovery of an early published novel, Life and Adventures of Jack Engle, shows a completely different side of Whitman’s literary career. The graduate student at the University of Houston who found the lost work, Zachary Turpin, will be speaking on the discovery at an event hosted by the Texas A&M University Libraries and Department of English.

Turpin will present “Under Your Bootsoles: Walt Whitman’s Secret Writings, and Where to Find Them” at 4:30 pm on Wednesday, April 12, in Cushing Memorial Library & Archives. This event is free and open to the public.

“Cushing Library holds a wealth of materials related to Walt Whitman among our literature collections,” explained Kevin O’Sullivan, Texas A&M University Libraries Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts. “We are delighted to learn of this newly unearthed early material, and look forward to hearing about Mr. Turpin’s research.”

In 1852, while Whitman was working on his famous collection of poems, Leaves of Grass, he also anonymously published Life and Adventures of Jack Engle. The 36,000-word story was published in six installments in a newspaper, as was common for the time. It was not until just last year that Turpin rediscovered the novel, and successfully traced it back to Walt Whitman himself.

Turpin’s passion as a graduate student laid in finding the unknown, searching for connections of seemingly unrelated scribbles in notebooks with works that had been published. While searching for a few key words from Whitman’s journals in an online database of 19th-century newspapers, Turpin was able to connect Whitman to Life and Adventures of Jack Engle. That find along with Manly Health and Training, the poet’s long-lost wellness tract, upended longstanding ideas about Whitman’s literary career and commitment to poetry as his choice of medium.

For more information, contact Kevin O’Sullivan, Assistant Professor and Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts at kmosullivan@library.tamu.edu or call (979) 845-1951.

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