New poetry series to begin soon in Washington

March 4, 2013
Elizabeth Alexander will be the first guest at the new series starting April 10, 2013. (Photo by CJ Gunther/Courtesy The Hill Center)
Elizabeth Alexander will be the first guest at the new Hill Center Poetry Series starting April 10, 2013. (Photo by CJ Gunther)

Good news for poetry lovers in the D.C. area: A new program of conversations with leading poets will start soon in Washington. The Hill Center Poetry Series, in collaboration with the Library of Congress Poetry and Literature Center, will begin next month in the beautifully restored Old Naval Hospital.

As the host of this new quarterly series, I’ll be interviewing notable American writers about their verse and what influences and inspires them. The first conversation will be with Elizabeth Alexander on Wednesday, April 10. Alexander is a professor at Yale University who has published six books of poetry, including the Pulitzer Prize finalist “American Sublime” (2005). She grew up in the Washington area and attended the Sidwell Friends School. In 2009, she came to national prominence when she delivered her poem “Praise Song for the Day” at President Obama’s first inauguration.

Editorial direction for this new series comes from the indefatigable Robert Casper, who was appointed director of the Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress in 2011. Prior to his position at the library, Casper was the programs director for the Poetry Society of America. In 2000, he founded jubilat, a literary journal focused on contemporary American poetry.

The organizational force behind this series has been Mary Ann Brownlow, the programming consultant for Hill Center. I met her several years ago when she was working for Borders. Back in Sept. 2012, she called Casper and me together, and the three of us starting brain-storming.

For me, hosting the Hill Center Poetry Series is like a revival of The Washington Post’s beloved ‘Poet’s Choice’ column, which I had the honor of editing for several years. (My former boss, Marie Arana, who now works for the Library of Congress, suggested me for this new gig.) As a co-sponsor of the series, The Post will supply advertising and promotional material.

We’ve already got the second conversation of the Hill Center Poetry series lined up, too: It’ll be on Oct. 1 with Nick Flynn, the author of three collections of poetry and the memoir “Another Bulls*** Night in Suck City.”

The setting couldn’t be more impressive. The Naval Hospital, commissioned in 1864 by Abraham Lincoln, has been superbly reconditioned as a cultural arts center surrounded by lovely gardens and a stunning wrought-iron fence. (You can follow Hill Center on Twitter @HillCenterDC.)

These presentations are free, but you’ll need tickets. For reservations go to HillCenterDC.org or call 202-549-4172. Hill Center is located at 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE., just two blocks from Eastern Market Metro.

charlesr@washpost.com

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.
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