2019 National Book Festival Gala

2019 National Book Festival Gala


** Ladies and gentlemen, please
take your seats. The program is about to begin. ** ** How it epitomizes what the
Library of Congress means to nearly 200,000 people who attend
the festival. The Library of Congress is the
world’s largest repository of knowledge and the book festival
gives an opportunity to showcase writers and artists
whose contributions are housed here and whose work rests on the
sholtdz of all the writers and artists who have come before. In 2019, the Library of Congress
launched a year-long initiative inviting Americans to explore America’s
change makers. There is currently an exhibition on view
in this building celebrating the women who changed America by
securing the vote 100 years ago. That’s an applause.
[APPLAUSE] ** And in December we will
celebrate the transformational role that Mrs. Rosa Parks played
in American history with a special exhibition featuring her
own words. Those who write and illustrate books change their
lives in ways both profound and everlasting. Assembled here tonight is an
extraordinary gathering of talent from this country and
around the world and we absolute all of you. I also —
[APPLAUSE] ** Oh. And I must offer a special
absolute to the United States Congress, the library’s chief
benefactor since it was established in 1800. No library
in history has enjoyed such long lasting and generous
support: The chief Ben factor to the National
Book Festival is long-term Library of Congress supporter
Mr. David M. Rubenstein.
[APPLAUSE] ** His pay the outetic
philanthropy is evident not only in this festival but also in the
Library of Congress literacy awards. I also want to take
this opportunity to thank other generous sponsors who make the
festival possible. Charter sponsors, the institute
of museum and like services, IMLS,
the “Washington Post”, and Wells Fargo. Patron sponsors the
James Madison council, national endowment for the arts and
national endowment for the humanities, champions Thomas
Gera are,di and John Klugi center at the
Library of Congress PBS and the Pizza Hut
book it program. [APPLAUSE]
** And we have many friends and media partners, including C-SPAN’s two
book TV, the hey Adams hotel, national public radio, “The New York Times,”
schask Inc. , small press expo, Tim and
Diane Norton and many embasscies that have
contributed to our program. The National Book Festival has been
called one of the best free events in Washington and you, sponsors and
friends make it possible and so does the
village — we must acknowledge the more
than 1,000 volunteers. Most especially the junior
league of Washington that has supported this festival since 200003 and the
hundreds of volunteers from the general
public and please join me in a round of applause for the dedicated staff
of the Library of Congress. [APPLAUSE] ** Now, when you go to the
convention center tomorrow you will see more of the beautiful
artwork created for the festival. This year’s poster is
the extraordinary work of Marion
Vanchis, a designer whose work is the embody. Of the
intersection of words and graphics. And as in previous festivals
this year’s festival is honoring one of America’s most
distinguished writers of fiction. We are presenting the 2019
Library of Congress prize for American fiction to Mr. Richard
Ford. [APPLAUSE]
** He’s right there. ** A novelist who is American,
profoundly humane and meticulous in his craft and you will hear
from him later this evening. So many people say that they
love the book festival and they also say they wish it could run
for more than one day. And I’m happy to announce tonight that we are making this event a
year-round event with a new series to be
called National Book Festival presents, and starting object
September 11th the series will begin the popular
actor, television host and magician, Mr. Neil Patrick Harris. Other
writers on board include our Newport laureate, Joy Hardrove,
tipping point author Malcolm Gladwell and the creator of
captain underpants Mr. — [APPLAUSE]
** Mr. Dave Pelpi. And this new series
will connect book lovers with the library on a year round
basis. Please join us for these exciting events.
As Frederick Douglas once said, once you learn to read, you will
be forever free and this brings us back to Mr. David
Rubenstein. Thanks to his generousty and foresight, each
year we present the Library of Congress literacy awards to
acknowledge outstanding work in the field of literacy and to
inspire literacy organizations worldwide
to continue working for their noble
cause. I have often heard David mention
his belief that books and reading are the keys to success
in life and we are fortunate to have him as a friend and
supporter of the Library of Congress. So please welcome Mr. David Rubenstein. [APPLAUSE] ** How many people here have
never been to the National Book Festival before? Anybody? Wow.
Okay. How many people here regard reading as an important
part of their life? [PAUSE]
** Okay. Well, for those who haven’t been here, just briefly, when our country
was first set up, there was no National
Book Festival. [LAUGHTER]
** The Library of Congress was created by an act of Congress
and one of the last acts of Congress passed by Congress
before they moved from Philadelphia down to Washington
in about 1800 the act was passed, signed by John Adams,
and $5,000 was appropriated for the Library of Congress.
Enabled them to buy about 300 books and the Library of
Congress was then in the Congress building itself and
amazingly the Library of Congress was there for much of
our history. It wasn’t until the late 1800s,
1897 or so, that this building was actually built. But I have
on good authority that James Madison and Thomas Jefferson wanted there to be a National
Book Festival. [LAUGHTER]
** But they just couldn’t get around to organizing it. And as some of you probably know
in 1814 when the British are now are good friends but not so much
then they burned down the White House and the Congress, they
burned down all of the books of the Library of Congress. Thomas
Jefferson sold his library, he needed the money actually as
well to the like of Congress and ultimately that became our
library and we have pretty much replaced all of the volumes one
point burned here as well and the library has the Thomas
Jefferson collection pretty much intact now the books that he had
in his collection. And it’s available for people to see. Now how did we get to a National
Book Festival? Well, what happened is, it wasn’t really in
the constitutional convention. It wasn’t in the authorizing
legislation. When Laura Bush became first
lady at the inaugural event she said to
then like Library of Congress Jim billing ton do you have a festival similar
to the one we have in Texas? He said we don’t but we will now.
So that first year 2001 was set up. It was on the mall. It was
a terrific place to have it. Weather intervened from time to
time and the National Park Service wasn’t thrilled with it
because it destroyed some of the grass. Ultimately it became too big for
the mall and we moved to the convention center, which worked
quite well the last couple of years. The first couple of
years we probably had 40 or 50,000 people, now we’re going
to have 200,000 people there tomorrow and amazingly there are
people standing outside right now waiting to get
in tomorrow morning and they’ll wait through the night. And so
it’s an incredible thing for America. It’s a great gift to
all the sponsors who have given to our country and I want to
thank all the sponsors for what you’ve done. For all the authors here, those
people who are waiting outside are waiting for you, there’s no
doubt. Yes. [LAUGHTER] [APPLAUSE]
** So for all of you here, reading is an important part of
your life, but it’s sad that in the wealthiest country in the
world we are 16th in the world in literacy, 16th in the world in
literacy. Right now in our country they’re roughly 32 to 33
million people who can not read past the third grade
level. About 13 or 14 percent of our entire population cannot
read. Not foreigners who come here and
can’t read — they can’t read any language. About 13 percent
of our population is functionally ill writ rat. The
chances you are going to have as pleasant of a life is not as
good as fubbed read because those people
who are functional functional ill literate earn a much lower
percentage than people who are little rat. They also get
involved unfortunately with our criminal justice system. 80
percent of the people in the federal prison system are
functionally illiterate. 67 percent of those people in
our juvenile delinquent system are functionally illiterate. If you are funking ill writ rat,
to make a pleasant life as all of you is very slim. Another
problem in our country which is I will literacy which is
people don’t read as much as they should. The average person
in this country reads for pleasure roughly 16 minutes a
day. That’s it. The average person in this country doesn’t
really read as much in terms of books as they should. 25 percent of Americans last
year did not read a single book and 30 percent of college
graduates never read another book in their life. It’s a sad
commentary on our country in many ways. So what I think the
National Book Festival does and what our literacy awards try to
do is this, to tell people how important it is to read, get
children to read. The best way to get a child to read is to
have a parent or guardian read to them. That is one of the
best ways and we encourage that in many of the
groups we give awards to encourage that as well. We also
believe that more and more people if they see the
excitement of the National Book Festival they will want to come
to it and those people who can’t read maybe they’ll be inspired
to learn how to. For the last number of years we have prizes at the Library of
Congress to award those people in appreciation for what they’ve
done and try to show to other people around the country and
world that it is possible to make a difference in literacy
but we need to make certain all the groups doing this are given proper attention and
also rewarded from time to time. So what I’d like to do is have
Library of Congress come up and announce the award winners. We have a video to show about
them first. (Video playing) .
** [APPLAUSE] ** Ladies and gentlemen,
accepting the 2019 international prize for
Contextos is founder and executive director \Debra\Debora\Deborah Gitl Deb Debora Gitler.
[APPLAUSE] ** Accepting the 2019 American
prize for the American action fund for blind children and
adults is executive director Mark Rickobono. [APPLAUSE] ** Accepting the 2019 David M. rub enstein prize for literacy
worldwide is CEO Kevin Wilgin.
[APPLAUSE] ** **
[PAUSE] [APPLAUSE]
** ** And thank you very much to
our deserving winners and to Mr. R. ubenstein for this way to
celebrate literacy. And ladies and gentlemen we are proud to
present our authors program. ** Ladies and gentlemen, please
welcome journalist, historian Evan Thomas. [APPLAUSE] ** When I got out of college, I
tried to write the great American novelty
novel and I wrote about 80 pages and I gave it to my father who
was a book editor and I came down to breakfast the next
morning and he looked at me and said
it’s awful. I a plied to law school that
afternoon. Different style of parenthood in those days but
actually it was a mercy killing, it was really going to be a
terrible book. I liked law school. Mostly I liked it because I met
my wife Osi there sitting in civil procedure class but I
didn’t really want to be a lawyer. I wanted to be a
writer. Now, fiction did not look so
promising so I thought, well, nonfiction. So I had worked for a law firm
that represented the Wall Street Journal and so I wrote the
editor of the wall streetlight journal Arthur talar
asking him for a job. I thought his name was
Arthurtarylor. I checked the masthead after I wrote the
letter and his name was actually Frederick Taylor. So I wrote
him a letter to say how embarrassed I was and I got back
a one sentence letter that said dear Mr. Thomas, you also misspelled
embarrassed. [LAUGHTER]
** So I’ve learned a few things. One is the importance of
editors. And not just to keep you from
getting the guy’s name wrong but for everything else. I’ve been literally changed by
editors, great editors in news magazines, John Miche, doterthy
Wiken, great editors, publishing world, Alice Mayu, I’m shown Scheuster, CKa
why, Padina but mostly by the best
editor, my wife. Because editing is a very human
thing and the person who knew my flaws
was the best person able to edit me to
keep me from being too full of myself or isn’t that correcty to
help me with tone and that’s the most important editing that you
could get. I also learned over time to
appreciate libraries and archives. When I was a young
reporter at “Time Magazine” just starting a book with Walter Isaac Son the wise man, I
had a shelf here at the Library of Congress I would go — I
covered capital, Congress for a time but I would sneak over here
to my shelf at the Library of Congress and read about the cold
war and I was amazed at what I found here. Things like the private diary of
a Yale secret society. I thought man this library
really does have every book and I learned that, you know, you
can talk to people but you have to have a paper. This was brought home to me when Walter and I went to see Georgia
Bundy who had been the national security advisor for John F. Kennedy and Lynden Johnson and
Walter and I wanted to talk about foreign policy
establishment. Bundy said there’s no such thing as an
establishment. We said we read an article said chairman is John
McCoy and Bunny said nonsense. Well, a couple months later I
was in the Linden Johnson library going
through the files of Georgia Bundy and I
found a memo from Bundy to the president the title of it was backing from the establishment, which of these
men is John McCoy. I gave out a Yelp. I had to be hushed. It’s
amazing what you can find if you just look. I’ve had incredible help over
the years from so many people. What Iral have learned more
than anything else is to be grateful
to Jeff flanaran mostly reading when
Jeff Franry head of the reading room who’s a national treasure
any author will tell you that. We’ve been working — .
[APPLAUSE] ** Helped us with our book about
Sandra Day O’Connor and about to with
dropping atom bomb. What I’ve learned is to be thankful to
Jeff and Osi. Thank you. [APPLAUSE]
** Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome novelist R. R.O.Qwan. [APPLAUSE]
** Hi. Hello. Hi. Thank you so much for being here. Thank
you to the National Book Festival. Thank you to the Library of
Congress: Thank you to the interpreters. I’m so excited to
be here. So I’m here with and because of my first novel, the Incediaries. I say it’s about a woman who
gets involved with a group of initial list Christians, the
group turns out to be a cult and they end up on the abortion
clinics, healthcare clinenics in the name of faith. It’s always
wild for me when I can actually see people’s faces as I give
this description because people’s eyebrows go a little
wider, a little wider, like what is going on. So I worked on
this book for ten years which means that for ten years I
attended a lot of parties and dinner parties and worst of all
thanksgivings at which people would ask what I
do and I would say I write. I’m working on a novel and
naturally they would ask what it was about. So I would tell them exactly
what I told you for those ten years. By far the most common
follow-up question was is your novel auto bio graphical.
[LAUGHTER] ** Which I never quite knew what
to do with because I think on the face of it people were
asking have you been involved in a violent extremis cult? Have you yourself led a violent extremis cult and/or have you
blown up any buildings? Can’t really understand was I
loved being Christian, I loved believing in something so large and so
consumeing. I wanted to write a book to perhaps serve as a kind
of imaginative bridge between different parts of the faith
spectrum across which it can be very difficult to speak
sometimes. But another people — another question that people often ask is how did
you keep going for ten years, which is a very real question,
and I’ve been thinking lately about what it takes to not just
write but also to have faith that perhaps if you write and
you write and you write and if you work very hard and if you have some luck that
you might have something worth saying. You might have
something that others might want to hear. And I wonder about
that. I wonder about how I had that faith. And I think a lot
of that came from how long and avidly I was a reader. Because
I was a reader first. I still am a reader first. If I’m not reading well, deeply,
seriously then my writing’s not going well at all. As a kid my
parents didn’t like to leave me with babysitters so I was famous
as a tiny child for showing up at people’s houses with ten
board members at a time in my arms. For me I think it was a
vertical fence against the world. I was always
reading. I’m from an immigrant family. I moved from Korea to
the United States when I was three and money could be tight
so libraries were a godsend, a lifelong. My like wildest childhood
fantasy was just to be able to be locked in a library for one
night so I could read all the books I wanted to read. I think
this is like still a fantasy and it still hasn’t happened so
maybe tonight, maybe here I’ll just hang out.
[LAUGHTER] ** I don’t know. I don’t know
if I could do that. We’ll see. And I think part of what books
have given me and libraries have
given me is as a woman as an Asian person, as an immigrant,
queer person, there are a lot of ways in which I could hear
the message that I don’t belong, in this country, in American
letters. And I never really heard that
message somehow. Insofar as I heard it, I didn’t believe it
and part of this is because I knew I belonged with books, I
knew I belonged with literature where the words and language
which were and are part of my birthright. There’s something more to be
said — she said I stood at the border, edge, and claimed it as
central, claimed it as central and let the rest of the world move over to where I was. I
love that so much. And this is something I encourage writers
and readers in general to do. Imagine you can be at the
center. Imagine you’re already at the center. It’s wild. It’s very strange to put a book
out into the world. The intend dairies have been
out less than a year and I’m grateful to the people who have
helped make this possible but also I have a much
longer lasting debt, a lifelong debt to the people who helped
bring me to the books and to the libraries and librarians to what
they make possible which is perhaps everything. Thank you
so much. [APPLAUSE] ** Ladies and gentlemen, please
welcome memoirs writer Casey Gerald.
[APPLAUSE] ** Good evening, y’all. Mr. Reubenstein to know that I
did not begin to read until I graduated from college with a
Yale degree no less which says a great deal about our
higher education regime and I was a young Washington staffer, very poor
living just across from the Library of Congress and so I
thank you all for giving so much money to this institution that I
can look out of my window and see and feel just a bit more on lent
despite my deposition pra Depravity. People often say my
cousin wants to write a memorandum more do you have any
advice. I say absolutely. Don’t do it. Unless your life
depends on it. And that certainly was the case
for me. I had achieved by my late 20s
about everything a kid is supposed to chief in this
society. I had gone from a little kid and forgotten world of oak cliff
Texas and song and dance and had done it,
but despite doing it all and achieving what they call the
American dream I was very cracked up. Not necessarily have a nervous
break down but not too far off. So I set out initially just to
trace those cracks with words. What came out on the page was
just as strange as I felt at the time and this alarmed some
people at first. I sent a few early chapters to
various esteemed writer friend of mine and he wrote back when
can you type on the line which is always a bad sign as you
know. So we hopped on the line and he
said what is this. You have been hired to write an auto
biography, straightforward exercise, it’s got a beginning,
middle, and end it’s grounded in the facts of your life and
there’s a great tradition by the way of auto biography in this
country led by people on the margins of society who write to
assert that they exist. You should go read Frederick
Douglas, read Maya Angelou, learn from them because you’re
going in the wrong direction. The now, as the writers in the
room will know I did not send my friend anymore pages of my —
[LAUGHTER] ** And I did not speak to him
for months actually. But I didn’t need to write a
book to know that I existed and even though I had grown up and lived a poor
black queer damn near orphan I haven’t lived on the margins of
anything actually. I thought of what Kendrick Lamar Pulitzer Prize winner, he says
I’m not on the outside looking in. I’m not on the inside
looking out I’m in the dead center looking around. That’s
the place from which I wanted to write. And I also knew that the
right direction was a bit like that cry that Tony Morrison writes about in
Soula, I’m so glad my colleague invoked
our dear ancestor now that cry that
had no bottom and no top, but was just
circles and circles of sorrow. So when I finally did get to Mr. Douglas’ narrative, that was one package more than any other that
knocked me out and it’s a passage we all
should consider tonight and always as we mark the 400th anniversary of the
first enslaved Africans who were brought to this land to point comfort
Virginia, not far from here in 1619. And Mr.
Douglas writes about his grandmother’s fate after her master’s death
and he says, she had served my old
master faithfully from youth to old age. She had been the
source of all his wealth, she had peopled his plantation with
slaves. She rocked him in infancy, attended him in
childhood, serviced him through life and at his death wiped his
icy brow from the cold death sweat and
closed his eyes forever. She was nevertheless left a
slave. They took her to the woods,
built her a little hut, put up a little
mud which I amny and then made her welcome to the privilege of
supporting herself there in perfect loneliness and now when
weighed down by the pains and aches of
old age when the head inclines to the feet when the beginning
and ending of human existence meet and helpless
infancy and painful old age combine together at this time
this most needful time my poor old grandmother is left all alone in
I don’t knowder little hut before a few
dim embers. She stands, she sits, she
staggers, she falls, she groans, she dies.
And none of her children or grandchildren present to wipe
from her wrinkled brow the cold sweat of
death or to place beneath the sod her fallen remains. Mr. Douglas asks will not a
righteous God visit for these stakes. Those of us who labor in the
vignette of language if I do know better than to visit for the things that our
country has done and not done that we
have done and not done, it is not a straightforward exercise.
It’s beginning is uncertain, its middle is unnerving it’s ending
is unclear, it is not marginal. It is very dangerous and a hell
of a lot of fun. So I will leave you with the
comfort extraordinary Mrs. Lucille Clifton, former porter
laureate not far from here, who knew so well why some people be mad at me
sometimes, she says they ask me to remember but they want me to
remember their memories and I keep on remembering mine.
Thank you. [APPLAUSE] ** Ladies and gentlemen, please
welcome children’s book writer R.J. Pilosio. [APPLAUSE]
** Oh, Lord, let me have the he will consequence of the — oh,
am I saying that out loud? Sorry.
[LAUGHTER] ** I have to follow that.
I first of all want to thank you all for inviting me here to speak on how
and why I became a children’s book
writer as well as some of the influences or change makers who
helped me along the way. I should note that I have
challenged myself to avoid inserting
anything at all controversial into my talk
because as I reflected on the things that I wanted to talk
about I realized that even though I’ve never really thought
of myself as a particularly
political person, these days my life and
my existence as a first generation American, the
daughter of two immigrants from Latin America, has become kind
of, you know, a hot topic. So, um, as I think about the
change makers in my life I have to acknowledge that I’m here today as a result
of a lot of political decisions that were made decades ago,
decisions that allowed my parents to come here, that gave
them the green cards they needed to work and pay their taxes and become citizens
of this country, decisions that helped fund the public schools I
attended so I could get a top-notch education from
teachers who never judged my potential based on how well my parents spoke English
and school librarians who fed me books with
thought and care knowing that a child’s outcome has nothing
whatsoever to do with their family’s income. Those
political decisions were the change makers of my life. So as
I stand here now in front of this very distinguished group of
people, it’s hard for me not to note that I’m here because I was
given opportunities that right now are being denied to children
just like me. But I promise no politics, so
let me talk about my parents a bit. Macko Jaramill and Nell Lee P
Palasio, absolutely the two most well read people I’ve ever
known. They came to New York City from Columbia in 1962 not for
economic reasons. In fact, they left behind a world far more
comfortable than the tiny apartment that awaited them in
the Bronx, but they came to this country because of
love. My mother had married when she was young and although
she had been separated from her first husband for almost ten years when she met my
father, divorce was not a legal option in those days. For my
mother to start a life with my dad out in the open the way she
wanted, she would have to leave her country. There were other
reasons too. My mother had a very, very
Bohemian streak to her which was considered a little scandalous
for her family. Being a single woman by choice
back then raised a lot of eyebrows. This is before Mary
Richards, you know, and all of that. Her friendship with a
group of writers and artists in her hometown of
Varaqia which included San Marcus — was
definitely frowned upon in her sickcals. My mother left Columbia and a
life of relative privilege to be with my father not only for love
but for freedom, the freedom to live the way she wanted to live.
That’s ultimately what she came to love the most about this
country, the opportunity it gave people to be who they want to
be, free from judgment, free from religious
appropriation, free from politics. It was not, of
course, an easy transition for my parents. Choosing to become an immigrant
in someone else’s country is always a front decision weighing
the life you have against the life you might have. It’s a
gamble and it was hard for them. My father who had been a
journalist in Columbia became a type fitter
here, a line type operator. He worked the lobster shift on
Crosby street setting copy for the
norkts among other journals. If it’s surprising to hear that a
recent I am gray nt to the country who spoke English with a
very thick Spanish accent was able to set copy for one of the
most prestigious newspapers in the world, you didn’t know my
dad. He spoke multiple languages, could read in Latin and Greek,
completely self taught. The when I was growing up I never
saw him not reading. My image of him will always be at our kitchen table several spread out
in front of him taking notes, a
walking inencyclopedia of history, very much a man from a
different century with his Marcus owe and pascal. My mother was more avant-garde
in her literary taste, Oscar Wild, her beloved behind Rick
bowl. I grew up in a house full of my parents’ books, wall to
floor with a collection of titles in Spanish that I can
still remember vividly. Las Uvas, El Tembor, lasm
Montanaa, I really had no choice in loving
books. Children learn what they live after all. If you want to
raise a reader, be a reader. If you want to raise a writer, be a
reader. Because while I know many
readers who don’t ultimately become writers,
I don’t know any writers who were not first readers. I
became a writer because of my mom and dad. They were the
reason I chose a career in books first as an art director in book
publishing, then as an author with a publication of my first
novel wonder. But I became a writer for children was because
of the many authors that my parents and teachers and
librarians shared with me over the years,
Sabri, Judy Bloom, James Barry, Louisa
May alcould the, so many others. I take grade pride and much joy
in knowing that wonder has become part of this cannon of
children’s literature and that it’s message of choosing
kindness continues to spread around the world. I draw hope
from the young readers who every day e-mail me or write to me to
tell me they understand the power of kindness, not as a plattude but
as an instrument of change. They understand that there is
actual strength in kindness as it encompasses not only the
ability to reach other human beings with love and compassion
but to stand up for them, to take a knee for them to march
for them, to fight for them to use whatever soapbox you’re
given to speak up for them. Which is why as I stand here
tonight I can’t not point out the irony of
my, quote/unquote success without remembering the remembering
kindness with which this country welcomed my parents once upon a
time and wonder aloud when this kindness will return. Because I
do believe in the power of human kindness. I believe it’s far
stronger than intolerance, that it transcends politics, that it
will outlast these times and these tiny, tiny men
in power these days. I believe in kindness because I’ve seen
it, I know it exists and it’s why I write about it so kids
will know it too so kids will believe it and fight for it.
And I hope for the sake of children everywhere but
especially for those who right now are suffering from the lack
of kindness shown them that we adults continue to fight for
kindness too. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] ** Ladies and gentlemen, please
welcome the winner of the Library of Congress prize for American fiction,
Richard Ford. [APPLAUSE] ** Thank you very much. Thank you
Dr. Hayden. Mr. Reuben stein. Thanks everybody for showing up
to support this remarkable festival and to honor the
librarians librarians, all the libraries, especially for everything that everybody’s
experiencing. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] ** I have to put my specks on
here. Franklin said all would live long but none would be old.
He was half right. I don’t mind being old. It just takes so
long. My great respect goes to my
colleagues who you’ve just heard and who have given us all a vivid Primmer into the
sources of literary art. Literature comes from attention
to life, not from college degrees
or MSAs or necessarily even from great learning. It comes from
taking life seriously enough to make it our great
subject and by insisting with what we write
and life’s worth our close attention and by doing that we can see the future
that — where our writing will be useful to others and life’s worth living
on a little bit longer. This is why literature is always
optimistic no matter how gloomy it might be on the page. 80’s wrote the arts are my
dreaming what have is to come. We’re living in a country that
possesses the will and history and investment in the future
sufficient for us to have a national library. The and even a National Book
Festival. This is some great intelligence
we all hunger for these things. A lot of us on a daily basis
now, me included, begin many of our sentences with the rather bewildered
citizens lament I live in a country where
my elected representatives won’t vote to protect my children from
harm. I live in a country where our court system has concluded
it’s a matter of free speech or great wealth to buy elections
and discourage citizens from voting. I live in a country where our
chief executive executive — hmm.
[LAUGHTER] ** I understand if we see
something we’re supposed to say something and we all see something but on this
subject I don’t know what to say. And yet partly — [APPLAUSE]
** And yet partly because of this national treasure where
we’re gathered at this moment which encourages
possibility and imagination and freedom and truth and living in
the light and invest mightily in our future as Jefferson and Adam intended is a
hope we’ll find ourselves and find our way. So Dr. Hayden
thank you again for this great service and for your rendering
for all of us at this library library. [APPLAUSE]
** I was a child of the library. The Carnegie public library in
Jackson Mississippi. My mother used to dump me there
before I was even eight years old. It was a kind of a day care with
books. [LAUGHTER] ** The library was a safe place
to leave me, a haven it was cool in the summers, my mother was in
essence a single parent and I was not a child who took
naturally to super vision and she knew
those old timemy lady librarians could deal with me. Adora writes about these in one
writer’s beginning which I hope you read. We were often there
together in the ’50s. It was also a place to be an
observer at age seven and a half. The library was a
well-known and fairly well accepted meeting place in those days when being gay meant
you were encouraged to stay out of the light. The library was
their haven too. I was a dyslexic boy so I don’t
know I ever read much of anything in the library. It may be I only managed to make
it out books were treated as special things by adults as objects to be
respected and preserved for me not from me.
You had to be quiet in there and though I didn’t think it then
then forced stillness I realize now was a gesture of reverence
for books and for reading. You could say these realizations
were for me a form of literacy. In
that library there were many things for one’s eye to fall upon, many
magazines. I remember tirltly Paris match with those exotic
sometimes saucy photographs of around the world. It was also interestingly an
English language copy of my comp which I
did open and tried unsuccessfully to read. It
wasn’t long after World War II then and my mother who was a
former con evict girl had a pias sensitivity to
the variegated incarcerations of evil which she believed needed
to be relentlessly outed. Here therefore was an evil who’d
written a book for all appearances just like all the
books on the shelves. I didn’t really understand how such
things went together, evil encased in a respectable book, but I was free
to try to understand it in my slow way
in the library. The Carnegie public was also a
place where African-Americans definitely could not come, at
least if they weren’t cleaning the floor or taking out the
trash. I sensed this was plainly
inequitable only I wasn’t smart enough or aware enough or brave
enough to recognize this as a crippling civil wrong,
though I should have. I don’t blame my parents and I don’t
blame the culture for that. I blame me. For me the library as Franklin
also said about the library he founded in Philadelphia for me
the library was free and energetic. Its spirit crafted
to encourage curiosity and wide interest and awarenesses that
even the librarians might not have approved of. But it wasn’t
free to everybody. Thus the institution of that
library as is true we know now of all
institutions with a precarious. It stood for a dismal wrong and
heartless restraint upon liberty. There also stood
staunchly from my freedom to read and think whatever I
wanted. I know with certainty that my first fully free exposure to the grave
incongruities and complexities and frailties of human life and
its resulting institutions occurred in the library and that
years later this experience would set a course for me as a
writer. How do you in utterance make
peace between the apparently incompatible urge to blame and condemn and the
wish to fight and revere? Much attempts at composition are
where much great imaginative
literature arises. Joining the apparently
unjoinable saying the unsayable. People ask me now where are
there so many American writers who come from the south and
specifically from Mississippi, I say it’s because we who are from
there have so much to account for which conventional wisdom
and language simply cannot say. Some kind of other language,
some other access to wisdom are required. This is the role of imaginative
literature. And yet of course we all want the books we write
to become institutions, even knowing that what we do
know about institutions that they can turn Brittle and
defective. We want our compositions and their truths to
be set in granite as a measure of their excellence but what we
quickly discover that the readers of our
books actually think of them as provisional and not permanent at
all. The social theorist Daniel door wrote that conceptual
schemes are neither true nor false but are either useful
or not useful. Novels, and what are novels if
they’re not conceptual schemes, novels get used by readers.
Readers have conversations with our books. They took apart our
compositions. Novel truths get added on to,
embedded. The only true function of a writer may be to
write a master peace but provisional may be as close as
we get to mastery, at least over our readers. What we’re allowed to do instead
is to venture a shapely and enlightened inquiry about
inCongressrous human matters of indisputeable
importance. What is good? What is bad? And are these often not joined
like the two phases of drama? And if they are joined, what are
the consequences of that joining? This debate is embedded in the
institution of imaginative literature and it’s enshrined in
this institution where we are tonight. Both in their way are safe
havens for such inquiry and just as one book we write follows and
seeks to exceed the previous one, both
institutionss, our literature and our library, must be
vigorously reappraised and made better so they can go on being
useful as we dream of what is to come. We may, for instance, think we
know longer have to worry about an entire race of Americans being blocked
at the library’s door, but who would
trust that in the world today? Not long
ago I was in great falls Montana in the library. I was actually
working on a novel in there using a computer, which is a
service the library offers free to nonmembers. This machinery
gets a lot of use by people who don’t have computers available
to them, use in applying for jobs, use to contact attorneys
or to look up the symptoms of some disease they might be
terrified they’re suffering but have no access to crucial
information about. I was sitting next to this
native kid, a young man, and at a certain
moment and seemingly without hesitation he leaned over to me
close and said in a soft voice appropriate to the setting, hey, bro, he said, can you spell? I
said yes. Because I still could at that time.
[LAUGHTER] ** He said I’m writing a
birthday e-mail to my mother over in Spokane. Does heart have an E in it? I said, yes, heart definitely
has an E in it. We all have our dilemmas.
Opposites that won’t resolve, truths that won’t reconcile with
other truths, ideas we know but don’t know quite well enough to be well expressed,
words we can’t spell, these dilemmas can
leave us feeling alone and unprotected in
jeopardy of failure. The library, even this library
is a haven, is a place that
recognizes us, all of us and is founded on the same resources
and the same convictions that good government is founded on,
the life life worth being lived a little
longer if only to see what good might happen in that way is like a story. [APPLAUSE] ** Thank you. And thank you to all of our
extraordinary festival authors, to all of the distinguished
authors in the audience and to our sponsors. I hope you had a wonderful time
this evening and please join me in the great haul now for a
special reception and enjoy the festival tomorrow.
[APPLAUSE]

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