I was thrilled to be among the packed house of over 230 supporters of the American Library in Paris to celebrate the annual gala at the Automobile Club of France on June 1st. Library Director Audrey Chapuis said, “All the magic of springtime in Paris is encapsulated in the annual gala — it’s a moment of pure celebration, of literature, of our community, and our supporters, who are responsible for sustaining the library as a center of intellectual life in Paris.”
The annual gala dinner is the library’s most significant fundraising event of the year, and contributes directly to its service, programs and collection. This year’s sold-out festivities began with an elegant champagne reception in the Automobile Club’s Concorde Salon and terrace overlooking the Place de la Concorde. We then descended from our lovely perch to enjoy a festive dinner in the Bibliothèque Clément-Bayard.
Guests were warmly greeted by Chapuis, who introduced acclaimed author Andrew Sean Greer as this year’s keynote speaker and honoree.
Greer is the author of seven books of fiction, including the best sellers The Confessions of Max Tivoli, Less, and The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells. He has taught at a number of universities, including Stanford, and the Iowa Writers Workshop. He has been a Today Show pick, a New York Public Library Cullman Center Fellow, a winner of the California Book Award and the New York Public Library Young Lions Award. Adding to all these distinguished honors, he is the recipient of an NEA grant, a Guggenheim Fellowship and the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his comic novel Less.
An insightful chronicler of our times, Greer proved an excellent choice to entertain this audience of book lovers. Greer spoke of being an American living in a foreign country, and how “noticing the details of what it’s like to be human in the world” informs his writing process. He added, “as a writer living abroad, you’re on your toes. You can’t take anything for granted. What you thought was the truth turns out to be an opinion.”
Previously Greer has stated, “I became a writer, and a lot of people do, because I was such a reader that I wanted to be part of it.” Indeed, books are at the core of the American Library in Paris. It was founded in 1920 by the American Library Association to house a massive collection of books sent to American soldiers fighting in World War I. Its motto “Atrum post bellum, ex libris lux” (“After the darkness of war, the light of books”) reflects the spirit of its creation – it persevered through the dark days of World War II and the German occupation.
Tip: This year the library launched a weekly history tour, showcasing stories from its century of service.
Since its inception, the library has dramatically expanded into the largest English language lending library on the European continent. A literary center, the library hosts more than 300 cultural programs and panels each year, showcasing leading authors, filmmakers, journalists and other public figures and experts. The library also features the Young Authors Fiction Festival, which is the largest English-language creative writing initiative in France.
Also this year, the library completed a cultural outreach program, sponsored by the U.S. Embassy, in which a team of staff and writers visited 11 locations in the Île-de-France and Hauts-de-France regions to bring Library programs to new audiences and spark cross-cultural dialogue. Over 1,250 people participated in the inaugural year of the program.
A unique institution, the American Library in Paris has never received government funding and is supported by continual fundraising and philanthropic gifts and grants. This not-for-profit institution has managed to create a small community feel in Paris, welcoming more than 80,000 annual visitors, who enjoy the extensive resources of academic, historic, and popular materials available for lending and consultation.
Its extends beyond lending books; the library is a symbol of American and French relations. The American Library in Paris reminds us of the special links between America and France, and it serves as a place to bridge the gap between the two countries.
Membership in the library offers a chance to become part of the vibrant literary community that exists in Paris, and to celebrate the written word and the life of the mind. It also forges connections and offers a creative outlet. Director Chapuis invited all guests to, “Come into the library and hold in your hand a book that was held by Hemingway or Stein.” She added, “Being in a library brings out the best in ourselves.”
Chairman of the Library’s Board of Trustees, Forrest Alogna, thanked the attendees, and emphasized that, “The library is not just a building. It is not just a collection of extraordinary books. It is not just an institution with a rich and varied history… The library is a place where we share ideas, emotions and sensations. That sharing and exchange of our humanity is the very essence of the library.”
I encourage you to visit the American Library and reignite your imagination.
Lead photo credit : © Krystal Kenney