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Podcast #85: The 2015 Library Lions on Truth and Inspiration

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Each year Library Lions honors several distinguished individuals for outstanding achievements in their respective fields of arts, letters, and scholarship. This year we are thrilled to recognize Alan Bennett, Judith A. Jamison, Maira Kalman, Karl Ove Knausgaard, and Gloria Steinem as our Library Lions class of 2015. This week for the New York Public Library Podcast, we're proud to present the Library Lions on truth and inspiration.

Maira Kalman, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Gloria Steinem, Alan Bennett, and Judith A. Jamison

Judith A. Jamison, dancer and choreographer, led the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater for twenty-one years.

“Go after your own truth is the best piece of advice I have, and look at yourself in the mirror and get over it. You know, hey, you're gorgeous. You're profound because of your uniqueness. It's not conceit. It's the truth. And find what your truth is deeply inside of you. That's the only way you can inform someone sitting out there in the audience what their truth is. Otherwise, if you're putting all this camouflage on everything, then what's the point?”

Gloria Steinem founded Ms., one of the most important magazines in American history, in 1971. A pioneering feminist, Steinem spoke about reconsidering social structures:

“I think that the most sinister thing that happens to us perhaps is the belief that hierarchies, war, gender, race are human nature. And what libraries can give us by opening up other sources is an understanding that they're not human nature, that for ninety-five percent of history, in many cases as far as we can tell, the paradigm was the circle, not the pyramid. Not the hierarchy. And what once was can be again, not in the same way. But it could be again.”

Beloved author-illustrator Maira Kalman is a true maker and intriguing thinker. She mused on the democratic gifts of libraries:

“Going to a library in New York is a great experience because you can go to the park and you can go to the movies and you can go to the museum, but when you go to the library in the city, everybody's equal. And that's one of the greatest important things is that nobody is more important than anybody else. And you have to feel that way when you're a child, certainly when you're a child, that you're as important as anybody else, and I think that's what happens when you're in a library. The potential of every person is full and valid. The library is a smart safe haven. It's really a palace of good thinking in a way in that you can go in there and find whatever you need. You can really find whatever you need to navigate through life. I can't think of another place that's like that. Libraries are probably more important than ever.”

As both a playwright and an author, Alan Bennett has a knack for capturing voices. The best tip he ever received? An approach to writing from Flannery O'Connor:

“I picked up, I think from Flannery O'Connor who I've talked about, that if you've got a story to tell, don't start at the beginning. Start at the middle and go back and pick up what you need later on. For somebody who's starting to write, write what you want to write. Write the stuff that you're interested in. Write the parts that give you pleasure to write, and then fill it in, fill in the rest. I still do that. I write the lollipops, as it were, first and then do the drudge afterwards.”

Karl Ove Knausgaard's six autobiographical novels created their own force field when they were published. He discussed moving books and inspiration:

“It's a very difficult thing to realize yourself who you are inspired by or what is important for you. I just read things and somehow it's like I'm eating it and digesting it almost blindly. Then I write something five years later that you could follow the trace back to that book. It's a very narrow thing that I can do, and that's what I can do, and I'm doing that. And I can't do better. I'm doing the best I can. There's an enormous variety of really, really good things. And I never think, ‘I wish I had written that’ anymore because what I want to be when I read is moved. It's that simple. And if you are thinking about yourself in that or ambition or technique or something, you are not moved. So I'm a really bad reader in that way. But then again it's not that many books that move me anymore. You get used to it. You can see something and you know you are being tricked when you are, so that good literature has a scent around it, a concrete thing.”

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