The Walt Whitman Birthplace has been recognized as a historic site in the past but not as a literary site -- until now.
The state-owned homestead in West Hills has been chosen as the 140th National Literary Landmark by United for Libraries, a national nonprofit.
The designation will be made with the unveiling of a plaque at the birthplace Friday with representatives from library groups, elected officials and state parks Commissioner Rose Harvey in attendance.
"It certainly gives us national significance as a literary site," said Cynthia Shor, executive director of the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association, which operates the site. "We already have designation as a state historic site and we're listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and we were named an American treasure by the Millennium Council in 1999, so we are recognized in the history field. But now we're getting a designation in the literary field. It adds to our significance and appeal."
Shor said the designation "is very beneficial for grant purposes, and it will make us visible to more visitors and attract more people."
She said she learned about the recognition program and thought, "Why shouldn't we have it? We have the qualifications and the status to be recognized." So she got an application from United for Libraries and went looking for required sponsors.
Rocco Staino, director of the literacy group Empire State Center for the Book, wrote a nominating letter in May. He noted that Whitman is in the New York State Writers Hall of Fame and that the Suffolk County Library Association, Suffolk County School Library Media Association and the Lambda Literary Foundation were sponsoring the nomination.
The nomination noted Whitman was born in 1819 in the West Hills farmhouse built by his father about nine years earlier. He first published his most famous work, the poetry collection Leaves of Grass, in 1855 with his own money.
"The Birthplace was restored in 2001 and it is a fine example of native Long Island craftsmanship," Staino wrote. In 2007, the Walt Whitman Trail, which begins at the birthplace, was designated a National Recreational Trail by the U.S. Department of the Interior, he said.
Jillian Kalonick, spokeswoman for the Philadelphia-based library group, said, "This is the first Literary Landmark for Whitman, and it is certainly a deserving site, since the area played such a significant role in Whitman's writing, and his family's presence there can be traced to the 17th century."
United for Libraries is a division of the American Library Association. It is the successor to the Literary Landmarks Association founded in 1986 by Friends of Libraries U.S.A. to encourage the designation of historic literary sites.
The birthplace is Suffolk County's second landmark to be recognized. Last year United for Libraries gave literary status to the windmill on the Southampton campus of Stony Brook University. Tennessee Williams lived there in 1957 and wrote an experimental play, "The Day on Which a Man Dies," about the death of his friend, abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock.
Nassau County has no designated literary landmarks. The Langston Hughes Community Library in Corona, Queens, was designated last year. Manhattan has eight designated sites and New York State has one more, Washington Irving's Tarrytown home on the Hudson.
Other recognized sites around the country include the homes of famous writers including Ernest Hemingway, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and William Faulkner, libraries and museum collections, and literary landmarks such as John's Grill in San Francisco, which was immortalized by Dashiell Hammett, and the prairie near Willa Cather's home in Red Cloud, Nebraska.
Friday's 2 p.m. ceremony is open to the public.