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National Book Festival Gala 2018

National Book Festival Gala 2018


>>Announcer: Ladies
and gentlemen, please welcome the
14th Librarian of Congress, Dr. Carla Hayden. [Applause]>>C. Hayden: Hello! I was reading a book. [ Laughter ] Getting ready for tomorrow. Well, thank you and welcome to
the 18th National Book Festival, founded by first lady Laura
Bush almost 20 years ago, and it has become a
Washington based tradition. When the greatest writers
and illustrators come to our nation’s capitol to celebrate the books
play in our lives. I know everyone is a book lover, so you know how it can
inspire and help us team. The library has been
working recently with the renowned design firm
Pentagram on a new look – one that reflects the
institution’s move toward the future. our goal is to make the
library more accessible to the American public
coast to coast. We think it’s a bold new look that showcases the
library’s collection resources and services for
Congress and for you. And you’re supposed to see it. [Applause]>>C. Hayden: Tonight,
we would not be here without the Library’s chief
benefactor:And supporter, the U.S. Congress. I want to thank all
the members of Congress for so generously supporting
this institution for more than 200 years, making it the
world’s greatest repository of knowledge and creativity. National Book Festival is made
Only — this is underlined — only through the
generosities of its donors and our most generous supporter of the festival is the
co-chairman Mr. David M. Rubenstein. [Applause] He is
truly the embodiment of patriotic philanthropy. His generosity can be seen
and felt all over town, the Kennedy Center, the National
Archives, the Smithsonian and of course in his
funding the restoration of the Washington Monument
following the 2011 earthquake. His giving to the Library
Extends beyond the National Book Festival. He also supports the Literacy
Awards and many programs and exhibits of the library. Mr. Rubenstein, David, on
behalf of the nation, thank you. [Applause]>>C. Hayden: In addition
to Mr. Rubenstein, I would like to thank others who make the Book
Festival a free event — think about that — a free
event for others to enjoy. The James Madison Council, the
National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment
for the Humanities. And, of course, all our many
Friends and Media Partners. You make this, we think, the
best free event in Washington. I also want to acknowledge
the more than 1,000 volunteers who come to us through the
junior league of Washington and the general public. And, of course, the hard
working staff of the library, especially Jarrod MacNeil, our
signature program director, proud father of twins. Two or three days ago. Marie Arana, our festival
literary director. And library development office. The beautiful poster
this year was created by Gaby D’Alessandro. I think it does a marvelous
job of conveying how we explore and travel through books. [Applause] Gaby is here. Will you stand up
and take a bow? It really is a beautiful, beautiful representation
of what books can do. We also have some young
writers here tonight who are an inspiration to
young people everywhere: The National Student Poets. These students… [Applause]>>C. Hayden: These
students from five regions Across the country are really
emblematic of the spirit of the National Book Festival. Will you please stand up so
we can acknowledge your work? [Applause]>>C. Hayden: For 18 years
the library has been fortunate to host America’s
greatest fiction writers at this festival, from John
Grisham and Toni Morrison, to Philip Roth and
Louise Erdrich. And some have gone on to be
awarded our highest honor in that category, the Library of Congress Prize
for American Fiction. The recipient of the
library Congress prize for fiction this year
is Ms. Annie Proulx. [Applause] She has given
us monumental sagas and keen-eyed skillfully
written stories. She was the first woman to
win the PEN/Faulkner Award for “Postcards” and her story
“Brokeback Mountain” was adapted into an Academy Award
winning film. Her latest novel is bar skins. We’ll be presenting
on the fiction stage. But you will hear
from her tonight. Please congratulate the 2018
Library of Congress prize winner for American fiction,
Ms. Annie Proulx. [Applause] Now, for the next
day, we will celebrate books, but our underlying love
of reading is also coupled with providing an opportunity
for people to learn how to read. There are far too many of
people throughout the world who cannot read or
do so at a low level. So low that they are
functionally ill literal. That’s where Mr.
Rubenstein comes in again. He is not only the
primary sponsor of the National Book
Festival but he is the creator and sole sponsor of the Library
of Congress Literacy Awards. He doesn’t just give
the funding. He also personally promotes
the importance of literacy and reading with passion. So please join me in
watching this brief video about the Literacy Awards. [Applause]>>Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen please
welcome David M. Rubenstein, Co-Chairman of the National
Book Festival and the originator and sponsor of the Library
of Congress Literacy Awards.>>D. Rubenstein:
Thank you very much. [Applause] Carla, thank you for
your very kind words and I want to thank the Library
of Congress staff for recognizing Literacy
Awards and those who were on the committee, they’ve
done all the hard work. And I want to assure
you, I do have more than one tie and one suit. I notice it’s the same one. I have a few ties
and a couple suits. They look different,
but anyway… How many people here have read
the newspaper today or online, something related
to the newspaper? How many people have read a
magazine in the last week? Anybody? How many people read
one book in the last year? [ Laughter ] How many people read
ten books in last year? Twenty books? Thirty books? Forty? Be honest. How many read 50 books? The truth is, imagine your
life if you hadn’t been able to read any of those books and
what your life would be like, how much less rich it would be. In my own case, I came from
a family that was not college or high school educated,
and the great pleasure in my life was learning how
to read and learning the world that was outside the
world that I grew up in, and I grew up in
Baltimore, and the head of the library is now — which
is the library in Baltimore — is now our Librarian
of Congress. [Applause] The first woman
and the first African American to be Librarian of Congress, and
also I think the first librarian to be Librarian of Congress in almost a century,
so congratulations. [Applause] Sadly, and it’s hard
to believe, it is very hard to believe, but 45
million Americans, about 14% of our population
is functionally illiterate, which means they can’t read
past a fourth grade level. 43 million Americans can’t
read at all, stop sign, they can’t read at all. This country purports to be
the wealthiest in the world, and in many ways we
complain about and think about the terrible problem
we have income inequality and social mobility, it
goes back in my view to one of the major causes of literacy,
people’s inability to read. If you cannot read,
you have limited chance of getting a very good job. Those people cannot functionally
read or read at all are going to make less than
two-thirds of what — a third of what somebody who can
read will make during the course of their lifetime. And that’s sad. Not only will they not get the
pleasure of reading and the joy of life you have from reading, but they’re going
to earn a lot less. In addition, you should
recognize that people who cannot read have a much
greater chance of being in our federal criminal system. In fact, roughly
65% of the people in our federal prisons are
functionally illiterate. And roughly 80% of the people in the juvenile delinquency
system are functionally illiterate. So if you cannot read,
you’re not likely to make a good living. You may well be in need
of public assistance. In fact, 80% of people
in public assistance is functionally illiterate. So this problem is not just
generation of adults I’m talking about but also for children. Because as we all know, the best
way to teach a child to read is by parental reading to them. But if you can’t
read as a parent, how can you read
to your children? So what happens very
often is the children — the children of parents
who cannot read, they don’t learn how to read. Therefore when the time comes
to measure them in third or fourth grade they
fall way behind. The children of parents
who cannot read had about a 20% chance
of being able to get through the fourth grade
proficiency levels. And if you can’t read at
the fourth grade level by the time you’re in the
fourth grade, in other words, you’re not really
reading proficient, you have a much greater chance
of being a high school dropout. In fact, 75% of the people drop out of high school are
functionally illiterate, and by the time they’re in the fourth grade they
were already really behind. There’s no one thing we can
do to solve the problem. The Literacy Awards are
designed to get attention to it. As Doris Kearns Goodwin
would say, “the world will no
longer remember what we do here tonight. ” And the awards are
relatively modest. It’s my goal to get
attention and the Library of Congress being involved,
doing all the hard work, they make it more important than
it would be if I was doing it by myself, so I thank
the Library of Congress for doing this. Everybody involved in literacy
organizations deserves the credit for actually helping
to solve this problem and deal with this problem. But this problem is
much bigger than anybody in this room can solve. We much more federal resources
and public attention and we need to recognize that if we’re
ever going to solve the income and equality problem and
social mobility problem of this country we have to begin
by teaching young children how to read and enjoy reading. All of you would probably say
that if you didn’t know how to read your life would be less
fulfilling, that’s for sure. You might have less money,
but less fulfilling a life. I just want you to
think tonight as you go to the National Book Festival
tomorrow and enjoy hearing and reading the authors
and seeing the people and the young children
in particular who are going there
— who are reading and getting books
autographed, how sad it is that so many people
are shut out from this because they don’t
know how to read, they don’t know the pleasure
of reading and reading books and don’t have the chance of
living a life that we would like our children
to lead and all of us pretty much
lead ourselves. Thank you, LLC, for doing this
and I would like Carla to come up and we can hand
out the awards. [Applause]>>ANNOUNCER: Ladies
and gentlemen, the winner of the 2018
International Prize of the Library of Congress
Literacy Awards is the Instituto Pedagógico para Problemas
del Lenguaje of Mexico City. The Instituto is a nonprofit
organization founded 50 years ago that is dedicated to
supporting deaf children and children with language
and learning disabilities, primarily from impoverished
families, through educational programs
and after-school support. Accepting the award is Executive
Director, Mercedes Obregon. [Applause] D. Rubenstein:
Check is in the mail. Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen, the winner of the 2018
American Prize of the Library of Congress Literacy Awards is
the East Side Community School of New York City. The school is a 6th through
12th-grade Title I public school that has developed a vibrant,
long-running reading program. Accepting the award is
Principal Mark Federman. [Applause] Announcer: Ladies
and gentlemen the winner of the 2018 David M.
Rubenstein Prize of the Library of Congress Literacy Awards
is Reading Is Fundamental of Washington, D.C. [Applause]
Announcer: Founded in 1966, Reading Is Fundamental works
to create a literate America by inspiring a passion for
reading among all children, by providing quality content
and engaging communities in the solution to give
every child the fundamentals for success. Founded in 1966, the
organization works to create a literate America
by inspiring a passion for reading among all children. Accepting the award is Alicia
Levi, President and CEO. [Applause] D. Rubenstein: Reading Is Fundamental is
something you’ve heard about, started by Mrs. Robert McNamara,
and her daughter is here. I want to thank you for coming. Thank you. [Applause] C. Hayden: And you
should know there’s a sign here that says “do not touch
or move this microphone,” and Mr. Rubenstein
wanted to make sure that Ms. McNamara
was given her… Because we want to give you
a special gift D. Rubenstein: Huh-oh. C. Hayden: It was hard to think
of something to surprise him, because you can see
it’s quite something, and we hope this fills the bill. Please accept this original
creation by Michael Cavna. He is the create tore of Comic
Riffs at The Washington Post and a great friend of the
festival and he has given this to the library to give to you. It is an interesting
representation of you. Michael, would you
please join us? [Applause] C. Hayden: Cavna. Michael Cavna. I just want to say — I did Google images and
I had only seen one type of suit and one color tie. I apologize. All were immaculate but
when certain people talk about rigged Google algorithms,
you might want to look into that, but it
was a pleasure. And, you know, we… I went to Gilbert
Stewart, because I went through Jefferson, and I
felt like, to do you right, I needed to channel Gilbert
Stewart, who had a studio in 1803 and died 190 years ago and Gilbert Stewart’s
spirit lives on of his unfinished
Washington portrait. I was given a deadline and this
was almost an unfinished David Rubenstein portrait. It was an honor. Gilbert Stewart did the first
six presidents and amazing, generous of spirit and a
true book lover yourself. Thank you so much. [Applause] C. Hayden: And
now, ladies and gentlemen, it is very hard to surprise him. Thank you, Michael. And now, ladies and
gentlemen, we are proud to present our 2018 National
Book Festival Authors Program. Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Brian
Celsius Brian Selznick. B. Selznick: I wrote down every
single word I’m going to say. [ Laughter ] B. Selznick: Dr. Hayden,
special guest, fellow authors, young poets, award winners
and book lovers, it’s an honor to be speaking to you tonight. I want to say on Halloween
of last year, I got a call from scholastic asking
me to draw new covers to help celebrate the 20th
anniversary of Harry Potter. Twenty years. I found myself trying to
remember what was going on in the world 20 years ago when the Harry Potter books
were first published in America. Luckily my husband David
sterling is a historian and has a better
memory than I do. He reminded me 20 years ago we
were living here in Washington, D.C. about six blocks from
where we are right now, while he had a fellowship at
the Smithsonian and I worked on a book about amelia ear Hart and Eleanor Roosevelt’s
friendship. Movies like Armageddon, saving private Ryan
were at the box office. Frank Sinatra died. Google became a company. Aretha stepped in for
Pavaratti at the awards, and sang “none shall sleep,” which sounds a little
like a warning. President in the White House
around much talk of impeachment and a Republican senator
from Arizona had just died. The best thing that can
ever be said of anyone is that they served
to a cause greater than their self-interest. Those words were
spoken by John McCain at Barry Goldwater’s funeral. And those are being
spoken by so many others as he lies across the street. Our lives history itself feel like an obstacle course
we’re navigating in the dark. We stumble from one unimaginable
moment to the next and only when we look back we see a path. Hindsight is what turns
experience into stories. Sometimes the story
feels like a circle but that’s what human beings do. We turn everything into stories. As if we had storytelling
in our DNA. And sometimes the storyteller
comes along who seems able to distill vast and
important ideas into something that connects with their
culture and they offer back to civilization a reflection
of ourselves, which speaks to our needs as individuals
and as a society. That’s what I think
J. K. Rowling did with the Harry Potter books. I was a newcomer when
called last Halloween. I had only read them for the
first time two years earlier. If you haven’t read them,
they’re good by the way. Even though I hadn’t
read them myself, I loved the phenomenon of them. As a former independent
book seller — I’m very proud of that fact —
I loved walking by book stores at midnight and seeing the vast
lines of families in costume and hearing a kind of
excitement for books and stories that perhaps hadn’t been
experienced by the culture as a whole since 19th century
crowds gathered at the docks in New York harbor waiting for
copies of the last installment of Charles Dickens’ “the
old curiosity shop” to find out if Nell lived or died. I’m not going to spoil it here. At last, three years
ago I decided to jump in and read the Harry
Potter series myself. I was overwhelmed and
became a huge fan. Wizards, magic, dragons, giants,
elves, orphans, evil, hypocrisy, bravery, tragedy,
betrayal, hope and love. Somehow she had taken all the
elements and made something new. She put us all at the center of
the most extraordinary narrative about someone’s life
effects and affected by earth shattering events. She forced us to
ask big questions. What do we do when everything
around us seems hopeless? When the people we
most trust die? And when the institutions
we most love begin to crumble around us? In many ways these books remind
us that in the darkest of times, it’s books themselves
we can turn to for help. They remind us that we need
heroes and we can be heroes. And maybe unconsciously we
are aware that like books, our own lives unfold in
chapters from our infancy through our childhood and into
our adulthood and old age. Different chapters perhaps
but all the same story. I think that’s why when I
was asked to draw new covers for the books, I knew
right away I wanted to do one long epic drawing
that would span all seven covers when lined up, a visual
narrative that would try to parallel what Rowling
does in the stories. I wanted the Dovers to
focus on the relationships between the characters,
the queer idea of family, non-biologically related people
who you find yourself related to through shared interests,
ideas, love and dreams. The families that Harry Potter
himself creates are particularly complex and beautiful. I wanted to draw
these relationships, these families in my covers. Most of all, I wanted the
main theme of my covers to be the battle
between good and evil. Since that was the element of the books I found
most intriguing, and the one I believe is
currently most important and relevant. The books tell us with the
prospect that Voldemort, the embodiment of evil
could win the battle. If he wins, what then? We get glimpses when
evil gains power. One of the characters is
Doris, dresses in bright pink and collects cats,
but uses bureaucracy to torture those
weak and powerless. It’s examination of
hypocrisy when people in power say they are
helping but hurting others. Doris illuminates a corrupted
soul and shows why we must fight against anyone like her. Up against all this evil
are Harry and his friends. They suffer. They lose people they love. They make mistakes. They are young and they fight
heroickicly and suffer greatly. But they are undon’ted
and they are together. Theirs is a story worth sharing. Those here tonight and
those coming this weekend for the National Book Festival
understand that empathy, love and understanding can be
gained through books as well as through the act of reading. And children’s books were
a lifelong love of reading and where empathy begins. I think the Harry Potter books
were in their way prescient. 20 years later, Rowling’s
vision of children saving us, children stepping up
and pointing the way to the future is echoed in the
actions of young people today, many of whom are taking to the
streets protesting injustice, speaking out, confronting evil. These young people were raised
in the spirit of Harry Potter, whose frame of reference
for most of their lives was leadership
associated with decency and intelligence and empathy. They are fighting back and
will continue to fight back. We must support them. J. K. Rowling knew
it was the children who will help us win the battle. That’s why I’m proud to be
here representing Harry Potter at the National Book Festival,
where we are reminded now more than ever what we
need to celebrate and support are good stories,
the endless power of books, and the vast bravery
of children. Thank you very much. [Applause] Announcer:
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the Library of
Congress’s National Ambassador for Young People’s
Literature, Jacqueline Woodson. [Applause] J. Woodson:
Thank you. Can I touch it to adjust it? Okay. I could have written
a speech like Brian’s. [ Laughter ] J. Woodson: If Aretha
hadn’t died. If her funeral hadn’t lasted for
eight hours and was televised. But, Brian, thank you. Thank you for your
words and your work. And the first thing I want to say is give literacy
all your money. All your money. [Applause] J. Woodson: I have
this poster in my office at home and it says, “You have to
give it away to keep it. ” And I think about that every
day, the fact that what we put out into the world
comes back to us. And the idea that as
writers we can’t have readers if people can’t read. And we have to support
our readers in that way. I’ve been national Ambassador
for Young People’s Literature since January and I’ve been
going around the country talking about the importance of reading, how reading equals
hope times change, that when we read,
it changes us. It gives us hope, and for the
writers in the room you know, since 2016, it has been
very hard to feel hopeful. And as a result, not only
is it hard to feel hopeful, but it’s hard to create art
when you’re not feeling hopeful. And one at of the ways I
find hope is by talking to the young people and talking
to the people who are engaging in the literature, and
very often traveling through the country I come
across lots of young people who can’t engage in the
literature to the extent that we like them to because of their
inability to process it. I want to give a huge shout-out
to Reading Is Fundamental and to East Side Community
School for the work that you’re doing to create
young people who are reading and Reading Is Fundamental,
I know everyone who is around my age remembers the
commercial with the little boy “Reading Is Fundamental”
and even as young people we didn’t
know what “fundamental” meant, but we knew that it
was something important and that one day we
would understand it, but in the meantime we had
something to do with books and something to do with a
party we were invited to. Speaking of parties
we are invited to, I want to thank Carla Hayden
for opening the Library of Congress to all of us. I didn’t even understand what
this place was before you became a part of it, and I saw that it
was a place that I was welcome to be a part of and to
be in and to explore. So getting back to
the literacy thing, I’m going to tell a
story about my kids. So don’t groan. It’s quick. I have a ten-year-old
son, Jackson Leroy and I have a 16-year-old
daughter. When my son was four years old
we realized he needed glasses. And when he was about
seven we realized that he was reading
differently from other people. And then we got him tested and
we found out that he had a lot of reading differences. And that he was having a lot
of stress about how he — knowing he was reading
different. And I know there are a
lot of people in the room who have encountered the young
people who read differently. And about two months ago we had
our 16-year-old daughter tested. I should stop and tell you,
my partner is Jew let Woodall, the most wonderful
person in the world and does just world-changing
work. And because we’re two women,
we can decide who gets to have what kid when. So I gave birth to my daughter and my partner gave
birth to our son Jackson. We have these two amazing
kids and love them very much, and when they get on our nerves,
I get to go off as ambassador, gets to go to the clinic. But I read differently
as a young person. I knew that I would have
been diagnosed as dyslexic in this day and age, but I
grew up in a neighborhood where parents weren’t
spending lots of money to get psych socials done
to see what was going on with kids’ reading. We did that and got our
kids tested and turned out both had reading
differences, and that there’s a
whole industry out there where you can pay lots of
money to get your kids on par, up to level, and there
are a lot of people that don’t have that money. Not only do they not
have the money to find out what their young
people are struggling with, but they don’t have the money to then help them get
through the struggle. And there’s so many
places where — so many schools where
they don’t have the tools to help the young people
with those struggles. And it’s hard. And it’s hard for me
as a mom to figure out what the playing field is
I’m choosing for my young people and it’s hard for me
as ambassador to go around the country and see
how many young people are struggling, either because
they don’t have access to books in their homes, because their
parents haven’t had the tools to learn to read so that
they could then go and read to the young people, or because
they’re undiagnosed in some way. And I think as writers,
as readers, as people who have means,
as people who have access, we can change the world. We can change this narrative
and we can end the school to prison pipeline
that is coming out of what Mr. Rubenstein said, about kids who are weak
readers becoming the people who are feeding the
prison industrial complex. So, I want to thank the universe
for giving me the gift to write. I want to thank the
writers who came before me. I know we all have writers who
came before us who taught us, James Baldwin and Audrey
Lord and so many more. I want to thank the
Library of Congress for giving us this space to actually have
these conversations about what it means to
create readers and learners and thinkers, and I want to
thank you for really thinking about giving all the money to — you don’t have to
give all of it. You can give the royalties
of a part of one book. You can give the royalties
of all of one book. You know, there are
ways to do this. I was watching Aretha’s
funeral all day long. It was on all day long. And it was amazing. But I thought about
tithing in the black church and in many churches
you tithe, right? You give a percentage of
your income toward some kind of greater good. And this is a greater
good we need to put our finances
into right now. This is going to
change the world. This is going to level
the playing field, if we’re not thinking about
doing it for the adults, Let’s do it for the
young people. So that’s all I’ve got to say. Thank you. [Applause] Announcer:
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Jon Meacham. [Applause] J. Meacham: Okay,
ambassador Woodson got a medal, Brian writes better
than Rowling… thank y’all for coming. This may be the most significant
gathering of talent and skill and literary ability in one room since Doris Kearns
Goodwin dined alone. Thank you for having me. I love the National
Book Festival because of its humbling
function for me. Ten years ago I was here, and
I was on my way to give my talk at that point about
Andrew Jackson. And a woman ran up to me,
which doesn’t happen enough. [ Laughter ] Or ever. Because if they
would, they would have to get out of their medical device
if they wanted to see me. And she said “oh,
my God, it’s you! .” I said, yes. Existentially speaking,
that’s hard to argue with. She said I admire your work
so much, your books have meant so much to me and my family. Will you wait right
here and I want to get your new book
and have you sign it. I said, yes, ma’am. I was standing there thinking, this is the way the
world is supposed to be. Women are supposed to admire
you and you to sign their books. This was perfect. She brought back John
Grisham’s latest novel. It gets worse. At that point I was
writing a biography of George Herbert Walker Bush. It was a Saturday. I went to Kennebunkport
the next day. I was at lunch with the
Bushes anded to this story, expecting some motherly
reassurance from Mrs. Bush. She looked across
the table and said, how do you think Mr.
John Grisham would feel? He’s a very handsome man. [ Laughter ] And you put me after these
two, so I’m never coming back. Thank you all very much. No, I’m delighted to be
here, honored to be here. I’m going to tell you a
story about why I write about what I write, and it
has to do with both the past and the future for me. And I think that ultimately
that’s the significance of history, it is our past
but I firmly believe as much as I believe anything that
it is absolutely essential to shaping the present
and the future. I you up on missionary ridge,
a Civil War battlefield in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It was the place where
Braxton Bragg lost to Grant, how Sherman got to Georgia. Some of my friends in
Atlanta never came to visit. I’ll wait. It’s kind of funny… You get further north and you
have to let that simmer a bit. I grew up 600 yards from
Bragg’s headquarters, where the line was broken, Douglas McArthur’s
father won the medal of honor at the age of 17. Two miles down the road the
other way was Chief John Ross’ house, the head of
the Cherokee nation. The Cherokee tribe which
did more than any other to meet the demands of a
white majoritarian authority, and yet still found itself
fundamentally betrayed by that country. There for me I could find balls
in the yard where I grew up. History was a tactile thing. And it was also incredibly
complex, because there were
two living monuments, two of the great original
sins of American life. African American slavery
and Native American removal. And yet the house
in which I grew up, the house between
those two places was my grandfather’s house. He was born in 1913
on June 22nd, 1941 as a practicing
lawyer he decided to join the United States Navy because Hitler had just
invaded the Soviet Union. My grandfather believed at
that point war was inevitable, global war, and he wanted
to be first in line. And spent four years
in the Pacific. I’m one of those people
who would not be here if Harry Truman had not made the
decision he made in late July and August of 1945, because my
grandfather was set to be part of the invasion of
the home islands with unimaginable
casualty figures. Again, complexity. The general and the universal, but with a discernible,
personal impact. I believe that I was drawn
to history and to biography because I grew up not in a land of where there were absolute
moral certitudes of black and white and good and evil,
but a kind of ambiguity. And I was taught
because of the heroism of that man whose house sat
between these two emblems of our falling short, that
the important thing was to stay in the fight. Because the United States,
had it not been founded, had we not come through
the cataclysm of the war, had we not continued the
journey and the search, not for a perfect union
but for a more perfect one, we would never have been
able to project the force across the seas to defeat
tyranny at Mid century in the second world war. And so between these two
sins stood a man I revered, who was not perfect. But who did the right
thing and put his life on the line for others. In that moral universe, in the
contradictory nature of that, I began to see that the
human story was, in fact, the most representative
one, the most enduring one. And I think we learn most from
the past, not when we look down on it condescendingly
or up at it adoringly, but when we look
at it in the eye. Take it for what it was and
realize that the damn miracle of the United States is that
we’ve gotten this much right. We live in a fallen
sinful world, the founders understood it. The constitution is one of the most Calvinistic
documents you can imagine. It assumes we’re driven
by appetite and ambition. It assumes that we’re mostly
going to do the wrong thing. And they were right. But what did it give us? It gave us the means by which
to seek our better angels. And I don’t know about
you all, but in the course of a given day, if I get
things right 51% of the time, that’s a helluva good day. And I think that’s true in
the lives of nations as well. I’ve written about
very complicated men and women, mostly men. I’ve written about them because
— not because they were perfect but because they
were so imperfect and yet at critical moments
rose to the occasion and pushed us forward, pushed us
toward that more perfect union. I’ve read about Thomas
Jefferson, a slave owner who nevertheless wrote the most
important sentence ever written in the English language as
our friend David likes to say. That all men are created equal. I get nervous when
I hear David say that about the most
important sentence written in the English language because
the phrase reminds me of a story about the Texas school board
candidate who was running and was against Spanish being
taught and went on the stump and said “If English
was good enough for our lord Jesus Christ,
it’s good enough for Texas.” As a Tennessean, we have to remind Texans they
would still be part of Spain if it weren’t for us. I made that joke once to
Governor George W. Bush and he said, “heh,
that’s funny asshole.” The miracle of the country is that despite our flaws,
we stay in the fight. We get things right. A final story about… another man I wrote
about, Andrew Jackson, who saved the union in
1832, Franklin Roosevelt who saved democracy,
saved capitalism and signed executive order
9906, Japanese Americans. George Herbert Walker Bush who
got a lot wrong in his life, imperfect man but he did leave
us with a more perfect union. I’ll leave you with this. About a year ago, the incumbent
president — Voldemort — [Applause] — was on his way
to Nashville where I live to give — to lay a wreath at
the tomb of Andrew Jackson. I live in Nashville. And he was coming down
and I thought, well, I should do something. And so I wrote an open letter
to the president that said “If you’re going to
embrace Andrew Jackson, don’t just embrace
the crazy parts.” There are plenty of
crazy parts to embrace. He once said only two regrets in
life were he had not shot Clay and hung Calhoun, his
own vice president. We now know no one felt that way about their running
mate until John McCain. But — Senator McCain liked
that joke, I can report. I cleared it with
him some years ago. I said, if you’re going to
embrace Jackson, he was, for all his faults, someone who
believed in the American union. He was devoted to the
constitutional experiment as flawed as it was, kept
us together through crises, and was a great negotiator
and understood weaknesses and knew how to use them. I wrote an open letter on
the front page of the paper, only thing that greeted
the president when he came to Nashville. Had no effect whatsoever. The next day, true
story, my phone rang, my most recent subject, George
H.W. Bush in the hospital a lot that winter and his staff was
giving him things to read. He read this. Get Meacham on the phone. The key to doing his voice, as Dana carver said is Mr.
Rogers trying to be John Wayne. How ya doing? I’m fine, Mr. President. He said, I read your
letter to Jackson. I thought, oh, the
ole boy is losing it. He thinks I’m writing
letters to dead people. I said, thank you. Actually, it was a letter
to Trump, not Jackson. He said, yeah, but Jackson
will pay more attention. [Applause] Announcer:
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Amy Tan. [Applause] A. Tan: I’ve been
sitting here thinking what excuse I could come up with
to say why I’m not prepared. I had deadlines. They had three hours of sleep. I was on an airplane before I
said, I really do have to think about the fact I’m
going to be talking in front of Annie Proulx. I want to tell you a story about
reading, and that is my debt of gratitude to the libraries from the time I was
a young child. I was from an immigrant,
a frugal immigrant family, in fact, an illegal
immigrant family. We didn’t have a lot
of money for books. We didn’t have books
in the house. By the time I was six years
old I would walk to the library by myself and carry as many
books as I could home to read. Now, I didn’t learn how to read
before that because the powers that be in the 1950s deemed
it irresponsible of parents to teach their children
how to read, because they would probably
do it by really dumb methods, and their children would end up
with learning problems the rest of their lives, probably
be chronic bed wetters and criminals and
all kinds of things. So parents just didn’t do that. Hence no books in our house. I remember, though, in the
first grade there was a woman who confirmed this, that you
shouldn’t teach your children to read early on. She came and she pulled me out of the classroom
and gave me a test. And later on she had — did
an interview with my parents. I remember seeing
her, this young woman, sitting in the living room. And at the end of this,
my parents called me in and they told me the good news. They said that the woman had
done this test and she told them that I had what it would
take to be a doctor. This is like heroine
to a Chinese parent. So not only was I going to be a
concert pianist, it was already in the works, I was
going to be a doctor. They told me also my English
skills were not that great, but doctors and pianists,
they really did not need to have that, it
wasn’t a problem. The woman came twice a
year, gave me these tests. And the test became longer and
longer and I could never finish. I thought I was becoming
dumber and dumber, maybe she was wrong
about the first test. I wasn’t inspired
enough to be a doctor, but I had to keep
up the pre-tests. My self-esteem was
based on those tests. I felt I was not
adequate to the task of fulfilling my
immigrant parents’ dreams. But I had a secret dream myself and that was to become
an artist. I love to draw. But that dream kind of
went north when my teacher, my art teacher, when I was
16, wrote in my report card that I had no imagination,
which was necessary to a deeper level of creativity. Okay… so out the
window goes that. At about the same time I got
my SAT scores and I scored in the 400s in English. Not really encouraging for
somebody who might want to make their living out of the
artful arrangement of words. Around that time my father and
brother died of brain tumors. Fortunately I became a
very rebellious girl. So, a year into being
a pre-med major, I quit and I became
an English major, much to the horror of my mother. But I love to read. I finished that major
in about three years and I became a linguistics
major and got a graduate degree in that because I love words. I love the feel, the texture, all the different ways
you could interpret words. I eventually became a
writer, business writer. I wrote things like direct mail,
the things you get in the mail that says “act now
and you get 20% off.” Very good at that. I wrote business articles,
telecommunications. I hated it. And it wasn’t until I was
33 years old, 33 years ago, that I started writing fiction. And fast forward. A few years ago I was trying to
write — finish my latest book, which people call a memoir. It’s really my imaginings
about why I became a writer. And I wondered about that test. What was the test really about? Because no professional would
have been so irresponsible to tell parents that
their child was going to be a doctor based
on one set of scores. So I did a Google
search and I put in 1958 first grade
Oakland School District, IQ Longitudinal. And the first thing that
came up was an article by a woman named
Dr. Delores Durkin. I thought, that was
the name of the woman. And it was a landmark
study she had done. It involved 49 children. Out of 5,003 first graders that
year, 49 of them were identified as having been illegally
taught to read. I was one of those readers. [Applause] Now, I
found that article. Not only did I find the article but through detective
work I found the book. You have to imagine my
reading this thing is like my self-esteem
was based on this test. I wasn’t supposed
to be a doctor. I felt so betrayed. And I read this book and I had
all the charts and the layouts of facts and figures,
the Oriental kid. And there were five interviews. And I looked at them and
first I didn’t recognize them because the names were math. And my mother said, I learn
you cannot teach children to enjoy music. I thought… that’s my mother. I started reading and I
found out that my parents, they kept debating the question
that this woman, Dr. Durkin had, which was how did
she learn to read. My parents said, her
older brother, Peter, he’s so brilliant, he
didn’t learn to read, he waited until first grade,
and he skipped a grade because he just learned so fast. We followed the rules. And finally they kind
of admitted, well, I might have picked
it up from my brother, who was teaching my cousins,
our cousins from China to read. They didn’t speak any English. And I had sat in on
these little lessons. And the others that my brother
brought home his textbooks and I would actually copy
the words, these letters, and then I would ask
him, what is this? And he would tell me. My father then went on
to say something else. He said, you know,
before the age of — even before the age of four, she
always loved to draw pictures and tell stories about them. And she said she had
an amazing imagination. And I have there my confirmation
that that test and what that woman had found
was indeed the reason that I became a writer. I did one more thing in
my search for the answer to my self-esteem and
why I became a writer. I found Ms. Durkin. I went searching for months
and I finally found a number and she was still alive. She didn’t remember me. I said, I was the first
study, your landmark — she said, I had so many
children I worked with. I told her what my
parents had said. She said, that was
very wrong of them. It had nothing to do with
what you would become. And I said, I just want to
tell you, I became a writer. And she said, of course you did. You loved to read. That’s why you became a writer. So I thank you, I thank
the library for providing to kids the books they need,
because they love to read. [Applause] Announcer:
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the
Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction
winner, Annie Proulx. [Applause] A. Proulx: I’m hoping
I don’t go into a coughing fit. I live in the Pacific northwest
and we have been inundated with smoke from British
Columbia, which seems to be burning
up its forests this summer. I’m a little uneasy standing
here because I do not think of myself as a real writer. What I am and what I have been
for most of my life is a reader. For me books are everything. I learned to read by
osmosis around age 4. My mother read picture
books to me from infancy, and after a while I recognized
the letters on the page as forming words that could be
understood by looking at them, as well as speaking
or hearing them. In the extended family, I
was the one who liked to read and well-meaning relatives
blissfully ignorant of literary discrimination
gave me books of all kinds. A first edition of Uncle
Tom’s Cabin inscribed as a Christmas gift
for Daisy Crowell, one of my great grandmother’s
sisters. Another gift was my Aunt
Pug’s college psychology text. [ Laughter ] It had a page of
about 10 photographs of facial expressions
indicating various emotions as anger and fear. Around the time I entered
first grade my mother took me to the local library in
Druid City Connecticut. I understood here was an
endless supply of books, and I could take them home,
my life became immensely rich. Katherine Elizabeth Docks, books about early human
awakened a lifetime interest in prehistory. Howard V. Brown illustrations
inoculated my mind with images of cave bears, saber
tooth tigers, wild-eyed people wearing animal
skins and perched in trees above flooding rivers. The first adult book I read
was Jack London’s “before Adam. ” Adult sexuality was strong
stuff for an eight-year-old. [ Laughter ] As much as words and
stories meant to me, book illustrations were
unfor getably important. My vision of European
forests was formed by Arthur Rackham’s
fairy tail illustrations of twisted choking trees
until I had occasion to visit the ancient
forest in Poland this year. I happily mix children
and adult books. In my early teens I
chose non-fiction books by the color of binds. I had read “mutiny on the
bounty” with great pleasure. I subconsciously thought beige
buckram books would be the most interesting. But Dr. Harold Kratz
autobiographical account of his life as a medical student
entitled Campus Shadows bound in midnight blue
disamused me of the notion. In high school I started
accumulating my own library with many modern
library editions. The poems of William Blake
joined the short stories of Fitzgerald, Stevenson,
Melville, Thoreau, Ernest Hemingway and I
was found of recallings. Years later I could
only think what a thrill if I had discovered Bartam’s
travels at that time. Novels captivated
with people different from my small New England world. More and more I was attracted
to books about distant places and began to move away
from fiction to exploration and see stories, mountain
climbing, wilderness travel, sermons, oratory, and history. My love for history started then
and I later found the approach to the past agreeable. I was anxious to get to high
school so I could learn Latin. Those were the days when
they still taught Latin in high school. But I found it difficult and spent many frustrated
hours puzzling over Cicero’s sentences. I see now good training
for sentence construction. Latin is such a tighten folded
language, it takes yards of English words to tease
out the compressed meanings. The first foreign writer I read in translation was Kafka’s
Metaphor followed by others. I read also Ladner, Hurst,
Conrad, Aiken, stories rather than poems, and Irish
short story collections as I could find. I was powerfully attracted to
short stories from Katherine and porter’s Noon Wine
made indelible impression. It would take many hours to name
the books I’ve read in my life, but after 50 or so years
of this omnivorous reading, I began to sense an invisible
something behind all the stories and texts. Something I could
not quite grasp. After falling into a
particularly beautiful passage in anthropologist, I started to
read less for plot and character and more for discovering
finally written passages and shapely paragraphs. I became aware of structure. Aware of the human
minds and hands that arranged the
words on the page. And I came to believe
that fiction and especially the short
story could be a way for understanding how we fit into constantly changing
societies and how the geography of where we live, the region and culture determine
the arcs of our lives. So, 20 odd years or so ago,
I began to work out some of these ideas myself. Now I’m old, but reading more
than ever, and I am reading now about genetics, human and animal
migration s,esturine tides, seaweed, filmmakers,
wolves and wildfire. Ain’t it great? [Applause] C. Hayden:
Thank you all for this wonderful evening
and to our sponsors. I hope you have had a
wonderful time tonight. And before we go into the Great
Hall for dinner, I have — and it says here
“breaking news.” It’s okay. [ Laughter ] We are pleased to
announce the date of the 2019 National
Book Festival! It will be on Saturday,
August 31st, also the Labor Day weekend. So have a wonderful
evening upstairs. And let’s celebrate
books and reading!

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