Discovering Sarah

Discovering Sarah explores the life of Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt (1836-1919). This podcast is hosted by Elizabeth Renker, a professor in the Department of English at The Ohio State University.

Sarah was a popular, prolific, and well-regarded poet during her lifetime, writing more than 600 poems across more than half a century. Her earliest work, composed when she was still the unmarried Kentucky teenager Sallie M. Bryan, was published by the most influential newspaper editors in the nation. She married Ohio poet John James Piatt in 1861. In the tumultuous decades ahead, her work met with robust national and transatlantic acclaim. She fell into obscurity upon her death and was rediscovered only in the 1990s, by numerous scholars working independently of one another. Since that time, she has quickly gained stature as a major artist, now standing at the brink of the American canon. In this collection of interviews, scholars who contributed to Piatt’s rediscovery tell their stories about how they came to “find” Piatt—and why she merits status as one of America’s great authors.

Learn more at the Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt Recovery Project https://kb.osu.edu/handle/1811/87055.

Discovering Sarah is produced by Kayla Probeyahn.

Preface

Who was Sarah Piatt? Why has she been rediscovered a century after her death in 1919? And what makes her America’s lost great writer? Professor Elizabeth Renker introduces listeners to Sarah as an innovative and fierce woman writer whose voice grappled with personal and social cataclysms and conventions during a tumultuous time in US and transatlantic history. 

The Palace-Burner

In this first episode, we speak with pioneering Piatt scholar Paula Bernat Bennett. In 2001, Paula published the first university-press edition of Sarah’s work.  Paula talks about how she came to find Sarah; why Sarah’s voice stood out; social expectations for woman poets; and Sarah and Emily Dickinson as contemporaries. Paula chose her edition’s title, Palace-Burner, from Sarah’s poem about women’s role in the violent social unrest of the 1871 Paris Commune.  It became her pithy phrase for Sarah herself–and her insistent challenges to gender norms.

Interview date: September 9, 2017

That New World

In this episode, we talk to pioneering Piatt scholar Larry R. Michaels.  In 1999, Larry published the first edition of selected works by Sarah since her death in 1919, That New World: Selected Poems of Sarah Piatt, 1861-1911.  Larry discusses how he initially found Sarah; why her voice is “like none of the others” of her time; his detective quest to discover more about her; and why she stands alongside Emily Dickinson as one of the “two giants.”

Interview date: October 10, 2017

Build It and They Will Come

In this episode, Jolie Braun, the Ohio State University Libraries Curator of Modern Literature and Manuscripts, speaks with our podcast host and Piatt biographer Elizabeth Renker.  Elizabeth talks about how she first learned about Sarah; how the literary canon works; and why she has dedicated her efforts over more than two decades to bringing Sarah back into public memory.

Interview date: July 27, 2020

The Archive

In this episode, we speak with Geoffrey Smith, former Head of the Rare Books & Manuscripts Library at Ohio State. At a time when Sarah’s name was barely known, Geoff began building a new special collection of materials related to her life and work that would rival other major author collections around the nation. He explains why he identified Sarah as important as well as the challenges and choices archivists face.

Interview date: January 22, 2021

Woman Poet

In this episode, we speak with Karen L. Kilcup, a major scholar and anthologist of forgotten nineteenth-century American women writers. Her 1997 collection, Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers: An Anthology, helped reintroduce Sarah to readers after her work had long been out of print. Karen tells us about Sarah’s recovery so far, what reviewers thought of her work during her lifetime, and what she thinks might be ahead for Sarah’s canonical status.

Interview date: March 5, 2021

Piatt Castle

In this episode, we speak with Margaret Piatt. A public historian by training, Margaret is the director of Piatt Castle Mac-A-Cheek in West Liberty, Ohio.  Margaret talks about her ancestors and their role in Ohio history; their settlement on Shawnee lands in 1828; their family connection to Sarah’s husband, John James Piatt; and her work with Piatt scholars who came to the Castle seeking Sarah, whose portrait was painted on the ceiling of one of the family houses.

Interview date: February 27, 2021

Scholar Adventures

In this episode, we speak with Pamela Kincheloe, who began working on Sarah while she was still in graduate school and serving as research assistant to Piatt scholar Paula Bennett.  Pamela tells us about what it was like doing groundbreaking detective work as a graduate student; about her dissertation research on Piatt; her experiences doing archival research; and her time in Ireland researching the places behind Sarah’s poems.

Interview date: April 28, 2021

Poets in Exile

In this episode, we speak with Bernadette Whelan, Professor Emeritus in the Department of History, University of Limerick, Ireland.  Her scholarly expertise includes extensive work on American-Irish diplomatic relations and on women’s history.  Sarah’s husband John James (J.J.) was employed by the US government as Consul to Queenstown, Ireland  (now Cobh) from 1882-1893.  At the time, Queenstown was a major port for migration to America; these were also years when the Irish people increasingly resisted British colonial rule.  Professor Whelan explains the Piatts’ sympathies with the Irish cause as well as how Sarah, J.J. and their children—some of whom stayed in Ireland when their parents returned to the U.S.—developed transatlantic identities.

Interview date: August 23, 2021