PBS's American Experience will air an hour-long documentary on Walt Whitman tonight. Check your local listings for time and channel. If you can't watch or record it tonight, you can always check the show's site to see it in its entirety:
On a hot summer day in 1855, a 36-year-old writer emerged from an undistinguished printer's shop in Brooklyn, New York, carrying a slim volume of his work. To family, friends and neighbors, Walter Whitman, Jr., may have been just a too-old bachelor who lived in his parents' attic, but as he walked the city streets that day, he knew something of himself they could not imagine. With his book of a dozen poems, Leaves of Grass, he was about to introduce America to a savior.
Ominous events were on the horizon in America, and Walt Whitman offered up his poetry and his persona as a perfect reflection of the America he saw; it was daring, noble, naive, brutish, sexual, frightening and flawed. He hoped his work could heal a fracturing America. But in his own time, his poetry was as contested as the idea of America itself.
This American Experience tells Whitman's life story, from his working class childhood in Long Island, to his years as a newspaper reporter in Brooklyn when he struggled to support his impoverished family, then to his reckless pursuit of the attention and affection he craved for his work, to his death in 1892.