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American Library: Creating Community in the Center of Paris

Author talk with Richard Russo. Photo credit: American Library in Paris

Tucked away on the one-block long Rue du Général Camou in the seventh arrondissement of Paris, just steps from the Eiffel Tower [1], Champ de Mars or the Place de l’Alma, stands a gem of a resource for Anglophones, the American Library in Paris. This institution, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year, was extensively renovated in 2016 and has reopened [2] to offer enhanced services and gathering spaces for English-speakers from all over the world. Library Director Audrey Chapuis captures its uniqueness: “A building consecrated to ideas and books is rare and needs to be protected.” As “a center for literature, learning, culture and community” [3], it also promotes the development of personal relationships in innovative and effective ways.

American Library in Paris offers a variety of spaces for gathering. Photo: David Griff

The library hosts an extensive array of events, programs and opportunities, including:

American Library in Paris. Photo: David Griff

For almost one hundred years, the American Library in Paris has offered resources to anglophones who visit or reside in the greater Paris area through long-term, short-term or one-day membership programs. Today non-members of the library can participate in specific individual programs if they are not yet ready to become part of the larger community, one which offers extensive benefits [7]

Finally, two specific library events command the attention of the wider world.

The American Library in Paris Book Award gives prizes to new books written in or about France. The 2019 competition will be judged by Alice Kaplan, Pamela Druckerman, and Thomas Chatterton Williams. Dr. Kaplan, chair of the jury, is also chair of the French department at Yale University. She most recently published Looking for the Stranger: Albert Camus and the Lie of a Literary Classic. Ms. Druckerman, the popular columnist for The New York Times, just released her 2018 book, There Are No GrownUps:  Midlife Coming-of-Age Story, in paperback. Mr. Williams looks forward to the publication of Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race, which will soon join well-received Losing My Cool: Love, Literature, and A Black Man’s escape from the Crowd. He has published articles on diverse topics in prestigious magazines.

Author talk with Sophie Pedder. Photo: American Library in Paris

In May, the library will celebrate its 99th birthday, with the theme “The Time Machine.” On June 6th, the library formally kicks off its centennial year at the Bibliothèque Clément Bayard of the Automobile Club of France. This Gala is the central fund-raising event of the year for the library, a nonprofit supported by memberships [7], donations, and grants. Martin Amis, the British novelist, playwright and commentator, best known for novels Money and London Fields and for his cultural commentary, will be the featured speaker. An international star, he likely will be greeted by the appreciation enjoyed last year by Salmon Rushdie.

Books related to current expositions in Paris are regularly featured. Photo: David Griff

The Gala will be followed by a year of reflection and imagination as well as celebration as the library board, staff, members, volunteers and others contribute ideas to a new strategic plan. Library Director Audrey Chapuis is deservedly proud of the institution she leads: “For one hundred years the Library has served as a center for cross-cultural exchange, a repository of ideas, and a haven for those who value the life of the mind. Together, we can build on those traditions and create new ones, for the readers of today and tomorrow.” 

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