Index (and links to less active productions at bottom of the index page)  
Abe Lincoln in the 21st Century  |  Coming Together Coming Apart  |  To Kill a Mockingbird  |  The Dickens!  
Fred and Adele Astaire: The Last Dance  |  Mark Twain: Telling Tales  |  The Belle of Amherst  |  Fahrenheit 451 
Study in Scarlet
  |  Joy Comes in the Morning

"The greatest of our poets . . . the American bard, our Homer and
our Milton, broke new road for the New World." — Harold Bloom, in his
introduction to the 2005 anniversary edition of Leaves of Grass

"Walt Whitman, to Begin With"

From the initial publication of Leaves of Grass, the work of
Long Island native Walt Whitman was controversial—condemned by critics,
shunned by the pious and prudish, ignored by American academicians
—but quietly praised by many men of letters the world over.

In this one-man dramatization, David Houston impersonates various
outspoken critical voices from 1855 and finally becomes free-thinker Whitman,
who defends his revolutionary work by presenting both famous and
neglected passages and poetry.

The presentation is accompanied by the jaunty, arrogant, very American
music of Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Whitman’s contemporary.

—Steel engraving that Whitman used for the anonymous first edition of Leaves of Grass.  Whitman said, "The worst thing about this is that I look so damned flamboyant—as if I was hurling bolts at somebody, full of mad oaths, saying defiantly, to hell with you!" He nevertheless liked the portrait "because it is natural, honest, easy, as spontaneous as you are, as I am, this instant, as we talk together."

"This outrageous figure," said Whitman biographer Sam Abrams in 1993, "radiating attitude, dressed like a menial laborer in flagrant violation of what all the world knew a poet should look like, served as a signature of a special kind.  The portrait goes beyond the romantic insistence on the divine poet; this is the divine poet who takes out the trash." 

I celebrate myself,
And what I assume you shall assume
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you
Leaves of Grass, page 55


David Houston

(516) 293-2638 /
700 Fulton Street, M-1, Farmingdale, NY 11735

Performance runs about 75 minutes
$250 fee includes actor, technician, small stage setting, music CD and CD player,
and travel (Long Island); facility is asked to supply only an
8 x 12 acting space,
basic lighting, and amplification (wireless clip-on) if the auditorium is large

Scroll Down, or Jump with these Links

Bio: David Houston

Background: Literary Entertainments

Scheduled Performances

Quotes About Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman Lifeline
References, Reviews, Comments


David Houston

David has appeared in leading roles in scores of plays and musicals, including Friar Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet, Sir in The Dresser, Senex in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Ben in Death of a Salesman, Mayor Shinn in The Music Man, Herr Shultz in Cabaret and Horace Giddens in The Little Foxes.  He is a published and produced writer of fiction and non-fiction.  His original plays, Let's Do It!, Jazz Baby Joan, Lillie Alone, Great Scott and Zelda, Murder and Madness and Poe, Mark Twain Telling Tales, and The Dickens! have been seen at a number of Long Island libraries.  His Joan Crawford biography Jazz Baby (St. Martin's Press) has been optioned for movie production, as has his mystery novel Shadows on the Moon.  He wrote and narrated the documentary films They Went to the Stars and Voyage to Darkness.

Literary Entertainments

David Houston's series of small-scale theatrical productions, on themes of history and literature, got its start in 2000 when he portrayed Charles Dickens, circa 1867, at a New York theatre and gathered impressive reviews. In 2001 he toured THE DICKENS! to Long Island libraries—where interest in additional plays was expressed. Houston —an accomplished writer and experienced actor—jumped at the opportunity.  He wrote, produced and directed GREAT SCOTT AND ZELDA, with Melanie Lipton and Steve Corbellini , which toured libraries during the 2002 “Long Island Reads” celebration of THE GREAT GATSBY.  Since then he has added other original plays to the repertoire: LILLIE ALONE, a one-woman tour-de-force starring Mary Ellin Kurtz as Lillie Langtry backstage in 1900 as she prepares lies to tell an interviewer and presents monologues from her classic stage successes; MARK TWAIN TELLING TALES, in which Houston, as the elderly Twain, gives a lecture on humor and wit, derived from Mark Twain essays and stories; MURDER AND MADNESS AND POE, starring Rick Heuthe as Edgar Allan Poe attempting to secure a lucrative lecture tour in 1848 quoting and reading poetry and stories in the process; LET'S DO IT!, developed at the request of the Port Washington Library, a one-act musical in which Noel Coward (Houston) and Cole Porter (Heuthe) test material for Coward’s cabaret debut in Las Vegas, ending with Coward's outrageous lyrics for Porter's "Let's Do It"; JAZZ BABY JOAN, with Melanie Lipton as Joan Crawford in 1934 defending her career and reliving her childhood, based on Houston's Crawford biography Jazz Baby (St. Martin's Press, 1984); THE GHOST OF DOROTHY PARKER with actress Diana Heinlein as the famed Algonquin Round Table wit trying to make sense of her turbulent life through her poetry and stories; WALT WHITMAN, TO BEGIN WITH in which Houston impersonates Whitman and his critics; FRED AND ADELE ASTAIRE: THE LAST DANCE, starring Melanie Lipton and Steve Corbellini , in which, backstage in 1931, Fred and Adele reminisce in song and dance as she leaves their famous act; and a new edition of THE DICKENS! featuring “The Chimes.”  In addition to original plays, Houston's group currently presents Melanie Lipton as Emily Dickinson in William Luce's Broadway play THE BELLE OF AMHERST; Houston in a reading of the first Sherlock Holmes novel STUDY IN SCARLET; Houston in readings of three short stories of ISAAC BASHEVIS SINGER; a three-actor "radio style" dramatization of Ray Bradbury's FAHRENHEIT 451 with Houston, Lipton and Matt Stashin.  For Long Island Reads in past years, Houston provided "dramatic readings in the form of radio drama" in 2003: HOW THE GARCIA GIRLS LOST THEIR ACCENTS, with Houston and Lipton; 2004: SNOW IN AUGUST with Houston and Stashin; 2005: Houston ’s solo reading from Steinbeck’s TRAVELS WITH CHARLIE; 2006: Houston ’s solo reading from Mark Mills’s AMAGANSETT; and for 2007: readings from James McBride's THE COLOR OF WATER.

Scheduled Performances

Wednesday, December 14, 2005, Half Hollow Hills Community Library, Dix Hills
Wednesday, May 31, 2006, 7:30 p.m.,
John Jermain Memorial Library, Sag Harbor   
Friday, July 14, 2006, 12:15 p.m., Port Washington Public Library
Wednesday, November 15, 2006, 1:00 p.m., Manhasset Public Library
Friday, December 1, 2006, 2:00 p.m., Jericho Public Library
Saturday, April 14, 2007, 2:00 p.m., North Shore Public Library, Shoreham

Quotes About Walt Whitman

"Walt Whitman . . . the greatest of our poets . . . the American bard, our Homer and our Milton, broke new road for the New World." Harold Bloom, 2005

“Whitman should be kicked from all decent society as below the level of a brute.”  The Intelligencer, 1855

“Walt Whitman, the ‘good gray poet’ of democracy, is one of literature’s great faithholders in human freedom.  Simply speaking for people everywhere and most of all for the believers in our basic American dream, he is constantly growing in stature as the twentieth century advances and edition after edition of his poems appears.”  Langston Hughes, 1991

“One cannot leave [Leaves of Grass] for chance readers, and would be sorry to know that any woman had looked into it past the title-page.” Charles Eliot Norton, 1856

“There was a man, Walt Whitman, who lived in the nineteenth century, in America, who began to define his own person, who began to tell his own secrets, who outlined his own body, and made an outline of his own mind, so other people could see it.”  Allen Ginsberg, 1981

“Walt Whitman is as unacquainted with art, as a hog is with mathematics. His poems—we must call them so for convenience—twelve in number, are innocent of rhythm, and resemble nothing so much as the war-cry of the Red Indians.” Anonymous review in The Critic of London, 1856

“The one man breaking a way ahead.  Whitman, the one pioneer, and only Whitman.  No English pioneers, no French.  No European pioneer-poets.  In Europe the would-be pioneers are mere innovators.  The same in America.  Ahead of Whitman, nothing.  Ahead of all poets, pioneering into the wilderness of unopened life, Whitman.  Americans are not worthy of their Whitman.”  D.H. Lawrence, 1921

“We look in vain, however, through Whitman’s book for a single idea. We find nothing but flashy imitations of ideas. We find a medley of extravagances and commonplaces. We find art, measure, grace, sense sneered at on every page, and nothing positive given us in their stead.” Henry James, 1865

"Perhaps Walt Whitman is not widely read in England, but England never appreciates a poet until he is dead. There is something so Greek and sane about his poetry, it is so universal, so comprehensive. It has all the pantheism of Goethe and Schiller." Oscar Wilde, 1882

“Whitman’s rhapsodies are as fugues played upon a big organ which has been stuck by lightning.  Some of his poems are among the most cynical instances of indecent exposure I recollect outside what is sold as obscene literature.”  Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1886

“In point of style, Leaves of Grass is an impertinence towards the English language, and in point of sentiment, an affront upon the recognized morality of respectable people.  We regard it as one of American literature's worst disgraces.” Anonymous, in The American Christian Examiner, 1856

 “We ought to rejoice greatly in him. He occasionally suggests something a little more than human. . . .  By his heartiness and broad generalities he puts me into a liberal frame of mind prepared to see wonders—as it were, sets me upon a hill or in the midst of a plain, stirs me well up, and then throws in a thousand of brick.” — Henry David Thoreau, 1856

“I am not blind to the worth of the wonderful gift of Leaves of Grass.  I find it the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1855

  Walt Whitman lifeline and history of Leaves of Grass


Born May 31 at West Hills, Long Island.


Whitman family moves to Brooklyn; Walt attends public schools.


Office boy, learns the printing trade and works as a printer's assistant in New York City.


Teaches on Long Island: East Norwich, Hempstead, Babylon, Long Swamp and Smithtown; edits The Long Islander in Huntington, works for the Van Buren presidential campaign.


Returns to New York to work as a printer, edits The Aurora and The Evening Tatler.


In Brooklyn writes for the Long Island Star and edits The Brooklyn Daily Eagle.


Goes with brother Jeff to New Orleans where he works on the Crescent, returns to Brooklyn and edits The Brooklyn Freeman.


Operates a printing office and stationery store, and speculates in the building trade, works as a carpenter with his father.


First edition of Leaves of Grass published by Whitman, printed by Rome Brothers in Brooklyn carrying no publisher's or author's name, contains 12 untitled poems and a preface.


Second edition of Leaves of Grass; Fowler and Wells served as agents for the book but soon renounced responsibility for it; author's name acknowledged on the cover. On the back Whitman printed a statement from Emerson's letter: 'I greet you at the beginning of a great career.' Whitman included the letter and a reply as an appendix. Contains 32 poems, poem eventually called Song of Myself (1881) appears here as Poem of Walt Whitman, American.


Edited the Brooklyn Times during what Whitman thought of as his Bohemian period.


Third edition of Leaves of Grass.  Goes to Boston for third edition, containing 154 poems, published by Thayer and Eldridge; this is the first edition which Whitman did not publish himself. The firm went bankrupt in 1861 and the edition was pirated. This volume prints for the first time A Word Out of the Sea (later called Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking) and As I Ebb'd with the Ocean of Life.


Civil War begins; Whitman's brother George enlists.


Goes to Fredericksburg to see his wounded brother.


Remains in D.C., works part-time in Army Paymaster's office; serves as a volunteer nurse in army hospitals, returns to Brooklyn ill.


Employed as a clerk in the Department of the Interior; meets Peter Doyle; witnesses Lincoln's second inauguration. In April, Lincoln is assassinated. In May, Drum-Taps is published. Fired by Secretary James Harlan who thought Leaves of Grass indecent; re-employed in the Attorney General's office. In the autumn Sequel to Drum-Taps is published, including When Lilacs Last in the Door yard Bloom'd. These were added to the 1867 edition as annexes but in 1870-71 were incorporated in the main body of Leaves of Grass. Drum-Taps contains 53 new poems, dealing with the Civil War and experiences in army hospitals.


William D. O'Connor's The Good Gray Poet appears.


Fourth edition of Leaves of Grass is published, with 8 new poems and extensive revisions.


William Michael Rossetti's selection of Poems by Walt Whitman is published in London.


Fifth edition of Leaves of Grass published. A second issue includes Passage to India and seventy-one other poems, some new. Democratic Vistas published.       


For Dartmouth commencement, reads As a Strong Bird on Pinions Free.


Whitman's mother dies on 23 May; he stays with brother George in Camden, New Jersey.


Sixth edition of Leaves of Grass appears, a two-volume centennial edition, one volume a reprint of the fifth edition, the other a collection (entitled Two Rivulets) of prose and poetry. Two Rivulets contains a Preface Whitman said was for 'all my writings.'


First annual Lincoln lecture; travels to St Louis and remains with brother Jeff because of illness.


Seventh edition of Leaves of Grass.  Gives Lincoln lecture in Boston; returns in August to read proofs of the Leaves of Grass, published by James R. Osgood. Osgood ceases to distribute Leaves of Grass because of threatened prosecution by the District Attorney. Publication resumed in 1882 by Rees Welsh in Philadelphia, and later in the same year by David McKay. In this edition the poems receive their final revisions and their last titles; the order of the poems is now complete; includes 27 new poems.


Specimen Days and Collect published.


Dr. Bucke publishes a critical study of the poet.


Purchases a house on Mickle Street, Camden, New Jersey.


Suffers sun-stroke in July.


Another paralytic stroke; Horace Traubel raises funds to aid the poet. November Boughs, containing 62 new poems and Complete Poems and Prose of Walt Whitman are published.


Eighth edition of Leaves of Grass, appears, with the poems in November Boughs included under the section Sands at Seventy.


Ninth edition of Leaves of Grass, the so-called 'death-bed' edition, published in 1892; a reprint of the text of 1881 with the addition of Sands at Seventy and Good-Bye My Fancy. The final, authorized text of all later editions of of Grass. Whitman wrote in 1891:  'I place upon you the injunction that whatever may be added to the Leaves shall be supplementary, avowed as such, leaving the book complete as I left it, consecutive to the point I left off, marking always an unmistakable, deep down, unobliteratable division line. In the long run the world will do as it pleases with the book. I am determined to have the world know what I was pleased to do.' Whitman dies on March 26, 1992, and is buried in Harleigh Cemetery, Camden, New Jersey. Complete Prose Works published.


Tenth edition of Leaves of Grass is published with the addition of Old Age Echoes, posthumous poems.

Sources (and suggested reading)

  • Abrams, Sam, ed., The Neglected Walt Whitman: Vital Texts, 4 Walls 8 Windows, New York 1993

  • Bloom, Harold, ed. and introduction, 150th Anniversary Edition of Leaves of Grass, Penguin Classics, New York 2005

  • Erkkila, Betsy, Whitman the Political Poet, Oxford University Press, New York 1989

  • Kaplan, Justin, Walt Whitman a Life, Simon and Schuster, New York 1980

  • Lawrence, D.H., Studies in Classic American Literature, Viking, New York 1923

  • Murphy, Francis, ed., Walt Whitman The Complete Poems, Penguin Books, London 1996

  • Nineteenth Century Literary Criticism Volume Four (Reference at Public and University Libraries)

  • Padgett, Ron, ed., The Teachers and Writers Guide to Walt Whitman, Teachers and Writers Collaborative, New York 1991

  • Reynolds, David S., Walt Whitman's America, Alfred A Knopf, Inc., New York 1995

  • Reynolds, David S., Walt Whitman, Oxford University Press, New York 2005

  • Shahane, V.A., Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, Hungry Minds (CliffsNotes), New York 1972

References and Comments
David Houston's Literary Entertainments


Debbie Dellis-Quinn, Program Director, Manhasset Public Library: "Our audience thoroughly enjoyed this program.  It is excellent for libraries and schools. Whitman's roots being on Long Island connects the audience to the subject even more."  Jessica Ley, Program Director, Port Washington Public Library: "Once again David Houston has delighted our audience with his interpretation of a well-known personage—intelligent, insightful and entertainingly portrayed.  Excellent." Patricia Brandt, Program Director, John Jermain Memorial Library, Sag Harbor: "Heard from people as they were leaving, 'Really enjoyed the program'—'found it very powerful'—'Loved the costumes and setting'—'Really enjoyed the music'—'I have to go back and read Whitman.'" On evaluation form, she rated all categories (audience response, literary content, performance, set and costumes) "very good." Half Hollow Hills Community Library, Dix Hills: "An excellent program.  Patrons, as they were leaving, told me how much they enjoyed the performance and the readings.  'It was beautiful, and I really needed it!' said one lady.'"

Copyright © 2005, David Houston