Nikki Giovanni At The Fitzgerald Theater, along with MPR host, Kerri Miller, St. Paul, Minnesota, January 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.
It’s the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln and celebrations are going on all over the country. We watched a couple of PBS programs last night on Lincoln’s youth in Indiana and Illinois. The tall man with the high-water pants lost his mother from “milk sickness” at the early age of 34. I was struck by how much he looked like Nancy Hanks Lincoln. He helped carve the pegs for her coffin.
Lincoln loved and understood the importance of words and there have been no shortage of books written about him. I listened to an NPR program on the way home from work this week: Three Books Explore Lincoln’s Complex Genius by Eric Foner. In his reviews of David Herbert Donald’s Lincoln, James Oakes’ The Radical and the Republican, and Richard Carwardine’s Lincoln, Foner dives into Lincoln’s relationship to power and passivity, and his complex friendship with black abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
In a couple of lines, Foner, author of Our Lincoln: New Perspectives on Lincoln and His World, sums up why Abraham Lincoln is still one of the most important figures of our modern times:
Every generation of Americans reinvents Abraham Lincoln in its own image. Politicians from conservatives to communists, civil rights activists to segregationists, have claimed him as their own. Lincoln is important to us not because of how he chose his cabinet or what route his train took to Washington, but because the issues of his time still resonate in ours — relations between the state and federal governments, the definition of American citizenship, the long-term legacy of slavery.
Lincoln was also a key player in the execution of thirty-eight Dakota Sioux on December 26, 1862, in Mankato, Minnesota. The hangings followed trials which condemned over 300 participants in the 1862 Dakota Conflict, the largest mass execution in U.S. history. The complexity and controversy of the decisions he made while president are a testament to his own internal battles and the time in which he lived.
In Birchbark Books last weekend, I picked up Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team Of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. She won the Pulitzer Prize in history for No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II. And one of the most fascinating sites I found is The Abraham Lincoln Bookshop with historic and rare authographs and photographs of Lincoln.
The site also offers a whole section on Women’s History, from the women’s point of view. There I found Catherine Clinton’s, Mrs. Lincoln: A Life, a chronicle of Mary Todd Lincoln:
Born into an aristocratic Kentucky family, she was an educated, well-connected Southern daughter, and when she married a Springfield lawyer she became a Northern wife—an experience mirrored by thousands of her countrywomen.
The Lincolns endured many personal setbacks—including the death of a child and defeats in two U.S. Senate races—along the road to the White House. Mrs. Lincoln herself suffered scorching press attacks, but remained faithful to the Union and her wartime husband. She was also the first presidential wife known as the “First Lady.”
I think the women in Lincoln’s life are as compelling as the man. Catherine Clinton will have a virtual book signing on Valentine’s Day if you’d like to join in.
Bicycles: Love Poems, on stage at the Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul, Minnesota, January 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.
After all this, the event closest to my heart is a Birthday Tribute and Wreath-Laying Ceremony on February 12th, 8am EST at the Lincoln Memorial. President Barack Obama has been invited to commemorate the 16th president at the Memorial erected following Lincoln’s Centennial. He invited poet and author Nikki Giovanni to recite her new work, written especially for the Bicentennial.
When Teri, Liz, and I went to see Nikki read at the Fitzgerald last month, she hinted at the contents of her poem, something I don’t want to miss. Teri sent the following email out to our Poetry Group a few days later:
Following closely on Elizabeth Alexander’s reading at Obama’s Inauguration, another poet is being called upon to read her work.
February 12th, 2009 is the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln. At the Lincoln Memorial on 2-12, there will be a special wreath-laying ceremony with a program that includes poet Nikki Giovanni. It will be at 7:00 a.m. (Minnesota time). I’ve included a link; I presume it will be broadcast widely.
Last week, QM, Liz, & I heard Nikki Giovanni live at the Fitzgerald in St. Paul. She blew us out of the water. She’s 65, was active in the Civil Rights Movement, teaches at Virginia Tech (where the massacre occurred in 2007), and was like seeing a touch of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Rosa Parks rolled into one.
Keep poetry alive, man.
I’m going to try to get my Night Owl self up early! Happy 200th Birthday, Abe. Your life and legacy are alive and well in the year 2009. And when we attend our Poetry Group tonight, we will all be celebrating the poets and poetry honoring the day you were born.
-posted on red Ravine on Abraham Lincoln’s 200th Birthday, February 12th, 2009