Cynthia Shor Retiring From Whitman Birthplace

After 18 years as executive director of the Walt Whitman Birthplace, Cynthia Shor will retire from  at the end of the month.

She will be succeeded by Caitlyn Shea, executive director of the Northport Museum, who previously worked at the birthplace in West Hills.

Shor plans to enjoy her retirement in  South Carolina, but keep her hand in education, leading book groups as a volunteer, and her first love, writing poetry. “I have lots of plans and joy going forward,” she said.

Early on, she said, she had big goals for the historic site. One Saturday, she was working away when a man dropped by and asked her what her plans were for the center. She told him she had visited Stratford-upon-Avon in England, home to William Shakespeare, and told him, “my intention is to put the birthplace on par with that.”

The man turned out to be then-State Assemblyman Steven Englebright, who responded by saying, “I’m here to help you do that.” She said that Englebright, who has since returned to the Suffolk County Legislature, has been instrumental in obtaining funding for cultural institutions.

She counts the naming of the center as a literary landmark a key recognition; the center was designated as such in 2014 in honor of the 19th Century poet.  “That was very important to me,” Shor said, as was the publication of two anthologies of student poetry.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Zoom sessions opened the center to even more fans of the 19th century poet, often described as one of the most important and influential of American poets. “We have a worldwide audience,  where we used to have wolrdwide visitors,” she said.

“I think the attraction is the figure of Walt Whitman himself, his stature in the poetry community and as a journalist whose work in the early years became known as the poetry of democracy,” she said. “Writing about 50 years after the American Revolution, He broke new ground with free verse, expanding what people could be and do.

“He spoke to so many people. He spoke to everyone,including those who appreciated him for his views on democracy, while others, for his transcendentalism.
“He’s the hometown native son but everyone can claim him.” In Huntington alone, a shopping mall, a high school and the road where the poet was born all bear his name. He founded the newspaper, The Long-Islander, based in Huntington, in 1838.
Shor said Whitman’s poem, “There Was a Child Went Forth,” published in 1855, spoke to her most.
The reason? “He was a child here at this very site. I picture him going forth from his birthplace, imagine him running in the grass. He also talks about imprinting, about the lambs and the flowers becoming part of the child and remaining a  part of the child going forth. We’re imprinted with the ecology of our birth. You remember that from being a newborn. I always feel that part of the land here became a part of him.”

The birthplace plans a farewell and welcome open house on April 24, from 4-6 p.m., and invite members of the community to join in. The center is at 246 Old Walt Whitman Rd, Huntington Station.

Caitlyn Shea


Celebrate Whitman’s 200th Birthday, and His Poetry, at Birthplace

One Reply to “Cynthia Shor Retiring From Whitman Birthplace”

  1. Sorry that Cynthia Shor is leaving, but she’s done a great job as Executive Director, encouraging everyone in the community to participate at the WWBA in their own special way. Best wishes for your new life ahead, Cynthia. The good news is that she will be replaced by another very capable person, Caitlyn Shea, who is warm, friendly and welcoming, and very talented, and who I am sure will take the WWBA to new levels. I look forward to seeing what lies ahead! Hope to attend the farewell reception and see some familiar faces.

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