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International Whitman Week 2023 in Rome

This year, we - Mira, Una, and Florian, three students studying at the ES I - attended the 13th International Whitman Week in Rome in June 2023. Whitman Week was a wonderful experience, and we encourage all students interested in Walt Whitman's poetry or poetry in general to apply next year!

Sapienza Università di Roma, as one of the oldest European universities and closely situated near the heart of the eternal city, served as the venue for this year’s Whitman Week, a yearly recurring event organized by the Transatlantic Walt Whitman association. It is a dedicated forum to explore and discuss his work with students and scholars from a variety of backgrounds. A week full of seminars, translation workshops and an ensuing symposium thus offered a multiplicity of insights and new perspectives on what seems to be an inexhaustible amount of approaches to the literal body of one of America’s most famous poets.

The days began with impressive panels by Ed Folsom, Zachary Turpin, Éric Athenot and Marina Camboni, each a heavyweight in Whitman Studies in their own right and interestingly diverging in their respective readings of his oeuvre. The panels were followed by small group seminars where we had the chance to discuss Whitman’s work in more detail, focusing on questions evolving out of the preceding panels, and to intensively engage with the attending scholars, who were as friendly and enthusiastic about our ideas and notions as we could ever hope for. The small group seminars also offered an opportunity to better get to know the other attending students and their research interests. Furthermore, on two afternoons we had translation workshops with Walter Grünzweig and Manuel Broncano, which not only opened another approach to discuss Whitman’s work but also offered a rich ground for intercultural exchange due to the large number of languages spoken in the room.

On Friday we had the honor to be hosted by the Centro Studi Americani right in the centre of Rome. This old and impressive building was a fitting location for the end of our seminar and the first day of the symposium which concluded the Whitman Week. It was a great chance to attend our first conference and to listen to the international group of scholars talk about Whitman’s Civil War writing in more detail as well as the ensuing discussions. Friday ended with a conference dinner before listening to one last panel of speakers on Saturday.

Accommodation was generously provided by participating Sapienza students who, for the duration of the week, welcomed us into their own homes and lives. Staying with the locals meant to glimpse a piece of the ‘real Rome’ and further enabled us to forge intercultural bonds that went beyond the academic discussions held during the day. Activities, cooking sessions, walks and Italy's famous aperitivo culture meant that much fun was had.

Exploring the host city together with the local students and not just as tourists is a unique feature of the Whitman experience. In addition, the official program provided multiple opportunities for visiting Rome’s many cultural sites together with the Whitman Week group. Amongst these opportunities was a walking tour from the Colosseum to the Tiber led by one of Sapienza’s Ph.D. students. On Thursday, students and scholars visited the famous Galleria Borghese together. The Galleria left a lasting impression − Zachary Turpin referenced the paintings of Caravaggio in his lecture on Friday.

All in all, we had a wonderful time at the Whitman Week in Rome, diving deeply into the work of Walt Whitman, having lively discussions, meeting a lot of wonderful people, and exploring the old and impressive city and we never wanted the week to end.

Written by Una López, Florian Mettner, and Mira Schruff