Celebrating the Legacy of W.H. Auden

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Christopher Hitchens

Reflecting on the evening's theme, "All I Have Is a Voice," writer and critic Christopher Hitchens noted, "The voice is often enough." Photo by Michael Stewart.

On February 26 and 27, the NEA presented All I Have is A Voice: A Celebration of W.H. Auden's 100th Birthday, a two-day event honoring the poet's legacy in American literature. "Although born in England, Auden spent half his life in the United States and died an American citizen," said NEA Chairman Dana Gioia. "It is important for his centenary to be celebrated in the capital of his adopted country." Sponsored in partnership with the Folger Shakespeare Library, Poetry Daily, and the Virginia Center for the Book, two free public events were held in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Washington, DC.

In Charlottesville, Auden scholar Arthur Kirsch, poet Charles Wright, and Chairman Gioia each recited their favorite Auden poems, expressing the poet's breadth of tone, from the humorous to the philosophical to the elegiac. Rounding out the evening was a live program by local cabaret legend Stephanie Nakasian, with accompanist Wells Hanley, of Auden poems set to music by Sir Benjamin Britten.

At DC's Folger Library, speakers included Chairman Gioia, Auden's literary executor Edward Mendelsohn, poet and critic William Logan, Irish poet and educator Eavan Boland, and writer and critic Christopher Hitchens.

Local Shakespearean actor Todd Scofield also gave a dramatic reading of an excerpt from The Sea and the Mirror, Auden's response to William Shakespeare's The Tempest. Auden himself closed out the evening, by way of a rare recording of the poet reciting "On The Circuit" during a 1968 reading at the University Church of St. Mary, Oxford.