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He didn’t read at the Brooklyn Book Festival’s new novelist panel last week, but the borough’s most-famous writer has just put out his first novel.

Walt Whitman’s “Franklin Evans,” which never received the adoration that his poetry or journalism did, was just re-released by Duke University Press and, though we can’t seem to find it on local bookshelves just yet, is sure to become required reading for the borough’s bookish set.

“[The novel] shows how suited he is to poetry,” said Christopher Castiglia, one of the book’s new editors. “[It] shows him wrestling with a lot of questions he resolved when he turned to poetry.”

One of those questions seems to be intoxication. His poetry — especially “These I Singing in Spring” and “Spontaneous Me” — are filled with such imagery, but the book tows a hard line for temperance.

“In the poems, he’s intoxicated by the landscapes, the cities, the people of America,” Castiglia said.

The people of America are great, but what about the people of Brooklyn? “Whitman’s own life experience traveling back and forth from Brooklyn is very much a part of the novel,” the editor said. “It embodies many of the anti-urbanization anxieties Brooklyn was faced with at a time when the landscape was changing faster than people thought possible.”

So while it may disappoint readers expecting Whitman’s poetry, Castiglia hoped the novel will have its own literary appeal. His introduction, he said, aims to explain the thematic concerns of the novel.

“Otherwise, it can seem very incoherent,” he laughed. “What some may see as flatness was really an intentional style used for effect, and we want contemporary readers to appreciate what might otherwise look like flaws. Whitman was writing in a very different age.”

“Franklin Evans or The Inebriate: A Tale of the Times,” is currently available from Duke University Press. Visit for information.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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