Breaking New Ground with Dr. Carla Hayden and Tracy K. Smith, Ep. 265

By NYPL Staff
May 12, 2019

Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts

Dr. Carla Hayden is the 14th Librarian of Congress, the first African American and the first woman to hold this position. Tracy K. Smith is the 22nd Poet Laureate of the United States, and Director and Professor of Creative Writing at Princeton University. In a conversation with Schomburg Director, Kevin Young they discussed their work, the future of Black librarianship and the democratization of libraries.

Kevin Young Carla Hayden and Tracy K. Smith

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[ Music ]

>> [Background Music] You're listening to Library Talks, a podcast from the New York Public Library. I'm your host, Aidan Flax-Clark. Today on the show is Dr. Carla Hayden, Tracy K. Smith and Kevin Young. Dr. Carla Hayden is the 14th librarian of Congress and she's the first African-American and the first woman to have that position. Tracy K. Smith is our current and 22nd Poet Laureate of the United States and she's also a director and professor of Creative Writing at Princeton University. The two of them were at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture recently to talk with Kevin Young, who's the director of the Schomburg. And they talked about their work, the future of black librarianship and the democratization of library.

[ Applause ]

>> How wonderful to have you both here.

>> Yeah.

>> As you can see, we're very excited to have you. And we had a sound check earlier and we started already this wonderful conversation. So, I know it's going to be terrific. I thought, Dr. Hayden, we'd start with you. You were saying before that you were first here at Schomburg Center 30 years ago. Was that right?

>> Yes.

>> Could you tell us about that?

>> Yeah.

>> What was your impressions then and?

>> Oh, well, I was coming to Mecca, right? I was doing research on the portrayal of African-Americans in children's books. And so I saw "The Brownies Book" here.

>> Wow.

>> We had some other things. And then I just knew that this was the place. I knew about Mr. Schomburg and Ms. Hudson and just all the librarians that had been here. And so as a baby librarian, this was just the place I had to be.

>> Yeah. I mean, I'm always struck we're doing a project right now looking at Arturo Schomburg's original library, what I call his seed library, you know. And that original-- it wasn't a gift. It was a sale to the New York Public Library through the Carnegie Corporation in 1926. That sale of about 10,000 items we think. I just want to-- We want to know what is in it.

>> And there was nothing wrong with selling.

>> Absolutely not.

>> Because the Library of Congress really got started when Thomas Jefferson sold his library from Monticello--

>> That's right.

>> -- to the American public.

>> That's right.

>> So, selling your collection, getting compensated for something that you have invested in is American tradition.

>> That is correct.

[ Applause ]

Well, I figured also and specifically in that case that hope to establish a value--

>> Yes.

>> -- for these materials that he'd been collecting. And, you know, one of the reasons as you all know that he started collecting was to prove the value and the very existence of African-American and African diaspora, people's history, culture. So, it's wonderful to have you here and to know you did research here on him and them. I was wondering, Dr. Hayden. Starting out, what was your vision for the Library of Congress? How do you see the future of it? It's state now. Where are we going with it?

>> You-- In the introduction, it was so wonderful. My mother is here. So, she loves to hear the [inaudible].

>> All right.

>> She loves to hear it over and over. One thing was that I was nominated by President Barack Obama. And during the ultimate job interview with president--

>> So, I want to hear that. That's the next question.

>> Well, basically what he said was I-- he had seen the contents of Abraham Lincoln's pockets the night he was assassinated. He had seen that Thomas Jefferson's draft of the declaration of independence, and he'd seen all these wonderful things. But he said, you know what, I think some of it is because of who I am, what I do. What can you do as librarian of Congress to open up this library and let more people see these treasures? And that's what it has been an adventure, to be able to show Rosa Parks' notebook where she was like a Uber manager there in the Montgomery bus boycott that she was-- And we're going to do an exhibit "Beyond the Bus: Rosa Parks" with her papers and her pancake recipe that we're having kids make. So, these types of things, that's what it is and we just got the papers of Billy Strayhorn.

>> Oh, how amazing--

>> Yeah. So that--

>> -- illustrator.

>> Well-- And to be able to select the poet laureate of the United States.

[ Applause ]

Imagine calling her and, Tracy, could you tell them about that phone call?

>> Yeah.

>> Oh. [Laughter] OK. Because she said, well.

>> Well, you have to accept that--

>> This was my first phone call.

>> -- it is a surreal, you know, it's a surreal call to take.

>> So, when is this? When is it?

>> This was--

>> A call a couple years ago when a call is my first big thing and everything. And I was so pleased because I was going to be Tracy K. Smith and it's going to be the landmark and all of these things and she paused. And I thought, oh, I'm-- this is my first thing. I'm failing. [Laughter] OK. But she had to consider family and what it would take and all of that and said, can I call you back tomorrow? I was like [laughter]--

>> Is that what you said?

>> Oh, my god.

>> Yeah. I guess that was the [inaudible].

>> Oh, my god.

>> And I was telling everybody that I worked with, oh, my god, I hope to [inaudible] the things in all this.

>> You know, it was also-- I really wanted to go inward for just a minute and say, OK, what can I give in that position? What--

>> Yeah.

>> Can I do that? Can I-- And I just needed a moment to breathe.

>> Twenty four hours.

>> And then in two years, she has broken so much ground in terms of what a poet laureate can do, been to rural areas, people were surprised and said, she wants to go to rural areas. She's been to New Mexico. She's been on reservation. She's been in communities all over this country making poetry come alive and help people.

>> Yeah.

>> So, thank you for that.

[ Applause ]

>> And so, can you tell us a little more about your project, how you saw your role and?

>> Yeah. I wanted to think about what my relationship with poetry could do in the moment. And I understand from, you know, time that I spend in classrooms that poems allow us to really become vulnerable in really productive ways and they urge us to really listen actively to struggle toward letting someone else's sense sink in for us. And I thought this is what America should be doing right now. And I want to do it in places where it might not tend to happen. You know, I visit colleges and I visit cities with festivals and things as a writer. And so, I wanted to think about the rest of the country. And it was such a huge gift to be able to spend this time going not only visiting really beautiful receptive communities but gathering a sense of the huge diversity of this country. And what was felt miraculous to me every time, creating-- and it wasn't me, it was the poems, a sense of community. And, you know, configurations of sometimes mostly strangers. People didn't always know one another in those rooms. And the poems facilitated this really beautiful kind of exchange.

>> And where were some of the places you went? You mentioned some. But where are some of the places you went from?

>> Well, the shorthand I've recently developed is we did this from Alaska to Louisiana.

>> Yeah.

>> But some of the states were also South Dakota, Maine, South Carolina, New Mexico.

>> And you were in prison?

>> Yeah, we visited prisons, libraries, community centers, but also retirement facilities or addiction centers. So, there were-- It was a really, you know, broad sense of audience.

>> Yeah.

>> And the poems, you know, I shared work by, you know, different living American poets. And those poems went a distance literally.

>> Yeah. We were saying-- Earlier, we were talking. You were talking about an experience when you're reading to an audience you didn't think was quite into it. Can you tell that story real quick?

>> Yeah. We were in Alaska. And outside of Anchorage, by about an hour in a retirement facility for veterans and pioneers, which I love that combination, pioneers of course who had been part of the homestead movement in Alaska. And so, I went in and what we tended to do was to use the little anthology American Journal, passed out copies.

>> For sale in the shop.

>> Yes, you can buy it.

>> I'm sorry.

>> Well, through the library, we were able to donate copies.

>> Sure, of course.

>> And I would talk about poetry a little bit and then start reading poems and asking other people to read them and asking what do you notice, what do you hear, what do these poems recall for you? And in this context, that question was met by a very uncomfortably long silence each time. And then there was one gentleman who had a lot to say but there wasn't a lot of interaction elsewhere. And I did hear sometimes these poems were being read maybe somebody would hum or moan or make some sort of a sound. And I was thinking, I'm really bombing here like what-- And then afterward, some of the people who worked in the facility said this was amazing. The majority of the people here or many of the people here were members of the Alzheimer's wing and many of them are now no longer verbal. And so to hear people humming or to hear people like just moving their body was this huge awakening and it just made me feel, oh well, poems speak in even more ways than I have thought.

>> That's amazing. I love--

>> Poet laureate.

>> That's right. [Applause] Two more years.

>> Oh, I've been trying but she has a podcast now, did--

>> Yeah.

>> Tell him about the podcast because that's storytelling.

>> You want to talk about that now or shall we-- you want to talk about the podcast?

>> Well, let's keep going.

>> OK, let's keep going.

>> I'll come back to the podcast.

>> Because I was just-- I just happened to-- My son had spring break so we were just in DC and we had to pay a visit to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, which was lovely to see. It took two days, of course, and we didn't see everything. But then I also, of course, went to Library of Congress which is so amazing to see your baseball exhibition and the Jefferson exhibition which I want to talk about in a minute. But I was struck seeing in the museum the collaboration you did to get--

>> Yeah.

>> -- the Harriet Tubman photograph. This is the earliest known photograph of Harriet Tubman.

>> Harriet Tubman.

>> Will you tell us about that?

>> And that is an illustration of being competitive and we talked about that.

>> Yes. I mean we would have loved to have that.

>> And I understand you tried.

>> We think. You know, there might have been--

>> However--

>> -- some efforts or--

>> Something like that, but it's a friendly competition to make sure--

>> That's right.

>> -- we were talking about earlier, to make sure that materials stay in the public domain.

>> That's right.

>> And we just all need to work together to make sure that somebody is getting the papers of Billy Strayhorn.

>> That's right.

>> And that's a--

>> Because no one place can get everything.

>> They can't and so we should--

>> Much as I wish-- Tony Martin is here, so.

>> Right. And we would love--

>> Tony would want everything.

>> -- to have everything.

>> Yeah.

>> And-- But you can't and you shouldn't because people physically need to go to other places. So what happened, this album--

>> Yeah.

>> -- photographs of suffragette abolitionist woman, Emily Howland, had collected people that she had worked with and one was Harriet Tubman. And it was up for auction. And so we both, Dr. Lonnie Bunch at the new African-American Museum and Library of Congress, we didn't have enough separately to bid and do. And we said what if we go together?

>> Yeah.

>> And the Library of Congress would conserve it, preserve it, digitize it, and then it could be on display physically in the African-American Museum with her shawl and with the other things.

>> Wow.

>> Wow.

>> So we just completely--

>> And is there a rifle or something in there?

>> Yeah, they have all of that.

>> Yeah.

>> We have the-- And so now it's the earliest known photograph of Harriet Tubman and it shows her. It is all-- We've digitized. It's all online now and you can download it. It shows her as the woman that led people to freedom. And she's a proud woman and she's in a chair and she's dressed very nicely. Not the old woman that you see with the shawl or the other ones, but this is the woman-- you say yes, she would lead people.

>> That's right. I'd follow her so get up. We gots to go--

>> And that's right.

>> -- [laughs] you know, like that. Harriet.

>> She looks like that.

>> Yes.

>> You can see it.

>> You can feel it.

>> And that's why, you know, you teach kids about the Underground Railroad and they hear about it but they've only seen-- they haven't seen the person that--

>> That's right.

>> And that's why it's important to work together to make sure-- I've just in awe some of the-- you have Lorraine. You're opening an exhibit in two days?

>> Yeah, in two days we have a Harlem exhibition, the novella-- She was being shy, she--

>> Novella.

>> She helped curated, so--

>> You have Lorraine Hansberry's copy of "A Raisin in the Sun."

>> That's right.

>> And you see her marking out so to get to the title.

>> Yeah.

>> That's going to be on exhibit right up here.

>> Look, there's the photo in question.

>> There is the photo.

>> Wow.

>> That's Harriet.

>> But she's not messing around, right?

>> No.

>> That's Harriet Tubman.

>> You know what, it kind of looks-- and this is going to sound strange, I've never thought this till just now. It reminds me a little of that portrait of Michelle Obama.

>> Yes, and with the dress. And think about the curricular things--

>> So when you said later, you got to give me--

>> But-- Thank you and I'm going to say that.

>> Yeah.

>> Because that's how we could work with the National Gallery of Art--

>> No, but it's real.

>> -- a portrait gallery.

>> It's real.

>> When you think about kids, so here they are and that's, you know, making these connections for young people--

>> Yeah.

>> -- seeing that dress and that and the geometric. And what do you see in the portrait of Michelle Obama and what do you see in Harriet Tubman? The pose and all of that. That's--

>> It's fierce.

>> Are you a museum educator?

>> Yeah, sometimes. Sometimes.

>> Imagine working poetry into that lesson plan.

>> And in poetry, what would you say? It's either do that and use. And for young people, sometimes they don't have the words so they need a way and poetry gives people a vehicle to discuss things.

>> And it keeps the sense of history on the ground and in the flesh in a way that not everything can, so that's exciting.

>> Yeah.

>> Well, yeah. I mean, I think one of the proofs of that is your oratorio that we're going to hear tomorrow, Tracy. Tell us a little bit about that.

>> Yeah.

>> And we might have to hear a little bit of it, too.

>> Oh, good.

>> But so tomorrow we're going to hear it from you in this new way.

>> Yeah. One of the poems in my most recent book is a found poem based on letters that African-American soldiers wrote to their family members during the Civil War and that their family members wrote to Abraham Lincoln sometimes asking for clarification or for help or for pay. And it also draws from deposition statements that these same veterans, their widows, and descendants made after the war. I feel it's important to say often well into the 20th century in an attempt to claim the pension, that is veterans, they were entitled to. I thought I would read, you know, do this research and then write a poem. But reading these documents which felt so alive and so full of just urgency, I just felt like I have to get out the way and just kind of gather these together so people can listen to them because they have so much that they are already saying. So tomorrow, I'm so grateful Composer Aaron Siege has composed a beautiful oratorio comprised of these documents and a Harlem choir named Songs of Solomon will be performing it here.

>> Tomorrow, debut. World debut.

>> Yeah.

>> So please come back.

>> And where did you do your research, Tracy?

>> When did I?

>> Where.

>> Where.

>> And how did you get those letters?

>> Well, there are two books that I'm so grateful for by scholars who worked with the primary documents.

>> Right.

>> I want to, once I'm off the road, get to those documents.

>> Yes.

>> Spend some time with them, but I was so grateful that those things are together in a place that I can say, you know, these are the books and they're copious notes at the end of my book. The document, those sources and then within those sources, each of the speakers because I feel like that naming is an act that we need to--

>> That's right.

>> -- commit to.

>> And see, that's another time. We just did a crowdsourcing program--

>> Wow.

>> -- by the people. And the first group of documents helping people, well, letting people and asking people to help us transcribe things, letters to Lincoln. And so we have the letters that have never been seen in years to Abraham Lincoln.

>> Wow.

>> So to be able to tie what you're doing to here is the actual letter.

>> Yeah.

>> That's why I asked about the research. Just connecting these types of things is so powerful.

>> Right. That's right. Will we hear a little? Is there something?

>> Yeah.

>> Would you?

>> I'll read you the first letter.

>> Oh please.

>> Because it's a letter to Abraham Lincoln from the mother of a solider. And you know, it was this letter that made me say I don't need to try and compose anything because listen to this voice. It's Carlisle, Pennsylvania, November 21st, 1864. Mr. Abraham Lincoln, I want to know, sir, if you please, whether I can have my son released from the army. He is all the support I have now. His father is dead and his brother that was all the help I had. He has been wounded twice. He has not had nothing to send me yet. Now I am old and my head is blossoming for the grave. And if you do, I hope the Lord will bless you and me. They say that you will sympathize with the poor. He belong to the Eighth Regiment Colored Troops. He's a sergeant. Mart Welcome [assumed spelling] is his name.

>> Letter to Lincoln.

>> Wow.

[ Applause ]

So when does the Lincoln book going to happen that you're going to write?

>> I don't know.

>> Primary sources.

>> Yeah, they make the difference.

>> And then did you see?

>> Yeah.

>> And digitized the letter and put it up there and people could see.

>> It's so beautiful. Tell us about the Jefferson Library. And you had mentioned before that that's how the Library of Congress got really its jump [inaudible].

>> Really got started-- The Library of Congress started in 1800 with some law books and things in the Capitol and then in the war of 1812 and then about 1814, the British came and they burned the Capitol and they used books from the library collection in the fireplace. That was something. I wonder my confirmation thing someone kindly pointed it out to me.

>> Wow.

>> He said don't do that [laughs]. It was Senator Harris, yes sir, I won't. So Thomas Jefferson had at that time the largest and most comprehensive private library in the country, 600 volumes. He had a Koran. He had things in other languages. There was a little debate in Congress, should we take these books because their-- some of them are a little different.

>> Wow.

>> And-- But he sold his collection to the United States and that was the foundation of the Library of Congress. And the idea as he said in the debate that there is no subject to which a member of Congress should not have to refer to justify having books on philosophy and other languages, all of those stuff.

>> Well, the completeness of the library--

>> Right, started.

>> -- starts then, yeah.

>> That's when it started that you-- it's a collection for the nation but a worldwide view.

>> That's right.

>> And that the-- You can be a citizen of this country but you need to know about everything else. You need to read the Koran.

>> That's right.

>> You need to see it.

>> Well, and to see his books in one of your spaces--

>> Yeah, and we're going to move those books actually to an orientation center so that when you come in you'll-- to get oriented, you will be surrounded by Jefferson's collection--

>> How interesting.

>> -- and know the story.

>> I have an argument with him over Phillis Wheatley and his reaction to Phillis Wheatley.

>> Well.

>> But other than that--

>> He has a few things.

>> Yeah.

[ Laughter ]

>> But I'm glad that this happened. And are you digitizing those or are they already digitized?

>> Yes.

>> Tell us about that.

>> I'm already digitizing and we're doing a massive digitizing project of things that are unique to the library, not other books or things that you can find anywhere. What do we have that's unique? The Rosa Parks' collection. So that's now digitized.

>> Wow.

>> The things that you won't see anywhere else about that.

>> And what-- And you've mentioned one thing or a couple of things on Rosa Parks. What else strikes you from her?

>> She have her-- She used to write on everything, the backs of programs and envelopes and things like that. So she has a program from a funeral and she then put on the back some of her thoughts. She was thinking about her autobiography and her thoughts on being arrested--

>> Wow.

>> -- and being in the jail. And she felt so alone and she felt like nothing. She also-- We have her handwritten notes for thinking about should she tell all as she said in her autobiography--

>> Wow.

>> -- that her father left the family when she was two. What would people think if she revealed those things? And we have them and it's all in her own hand. So in the exhibit, you're going to see a lot of things that the graphic representation, and we'll appreciate this in terms of an exhibit, will be things in her hand.

>> That's amazing. And I love seeing people's hand. I mean, you know, they don't even teach cursive anymore.

>> No.

>> And so sometimes students can't even read old cursive.

>> We found that within by the people program--

>> Yeah.

>> -- that that's one of them. So we pair more mature people with the young people who can do the type to that--

>> Oh, that's sort of.

>> -- and the mature people are reading the cursive because they can't do it. So we've been working with DC public schools on that, but it's all online now so anybody could go up and do it.

>> What do you think about that, the democratization of libraries? I mean, we are big believers on that, I know you are but I just want to hear you, you know, talk about it.

>> Well, we mentioned that quote about it. Democratic society, you need to as Frederick Douglass said, "Once you learn to read, you'll be forever free." And Alberto Manguel and his book "The History of Reading" has a chapter on forbidden reading and the photo that's there is of a slave with a-- a former slave with a book. And as he says, paraphrasing, but a centuries of dictators, slave owners, and other illicit holders of power have always known an illiterate crowd is the easiest to rule.

>> Yeah.

>> And if you cannot prevent the people from learning to read, the next best recourse is to limit its scope.

>> Yeah.

>> So when libraries and communities are underresourced when they-- all this, it's something to think about.

>> That's right. Well, I think about that a lot lately because when I started getting into libraries, there was this crazy notion that books were dying or that libraries wouldn't be so important because you had something in your phone. Now I think it's amazing that we've digitized these things. But like you said, you have them so you can digitize them. If you didn't have them--

>> Right.

>> -- you couldn't digitize these unique items.

>> And when you see the access like the poetry, what about the poetry of Langston Hughes and being able-- you're talking about these poets and to be able to pull it up or to look at it or think about--

>> Right.

>> -- and play with words and think about words and use technology like that. How do you-- with students now.

>> I mean, it's remarkable because they can-- we can begin a conversation and they can go out and deepen it. I feel like it's really important to have a balance between both modes because they get excited, we all do. Like I can go here and then I can be way over here.

>> Yeah.

>> I also think that the encounter of a single voice over the span of a book or a career can really also be meaningful, life changing, and instructive and so I think we need to appreciate both.

>> Yeah. I mean, I think everyone here would agree but there's something so specific and fascinating to know. Langston Hughes' ashes are right here in the Langston Hughes lobby buried.

>> And you have Friday night dances.

>> That's right. Yes. This--

>> Right there. I didn't want to walk across.

>> Yeah, that's right.

>> But then they said that you have that--

>> It gets rocking out there, you know.

>> But that's what he would have wanted.

>> That's right. So, you know, sometimes people get nervous but I say, hey, you know, he like to go party, so. I think that also to see in the Harlem exhibition which you'll see when you get to come later this week, there's Langston Hughes' funeral program with someone's handwriting talking about what was on there and ending with Duke Ellington's "Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me."

>> Hear from me.

>> I mean, that's-- there's something about that that's different because I think sometimes students, or visitors, or young folks, we don't think about them as levee-- you know, just in books and that we don't think of writers as living. And I love that in your anthology you focus on living writers for instance. Tell us why you decided that and tell us a little bit about that sort of choice of these 50 poets.

>> Well, I needed parameters because I had to put limitations but then the more I thought about it, I wanted people who-- I wanted this folk to invite people to think about poetry as a living art form and to think about American poetry and even America as a place that is made up of many different places and many voices, many stories. And so to say these are the things that people are writing today about the world we now inhabit, the world we've made, that felt really meaningful. It felt like it-- if there are readers out there who believe that poetry comes from another time and that it takes us out of the real, I wanted them to say, oh, but wait, this is a poem about working a minimum wage job. That's what I do. And this feels real to me.

>> Would you read one more poem from that book?

>> Sure.

>> This is from American Journal which is named after Robert Hayden--

>> Yeah.

>> -- the great black writer.

>> This is a poem by Ross Gay called "Becoming a Horse." I love this poem for many reasons and one of them is because I feel like it describes, in some ways, the things that-- that kind of transference that poetry facilitates, the way it can lead you out of yourself and into another's perspective. "Becoming a Horse." It was dragging my hands along its belly, loosing the bit and wiping the spit from its mouth made me a snatch of grass in the thing's maw, a fly tasting its ear. It was touching my nose to his made me know the clover's bloom, my wet eye to his made me know the long field's secrets. But it was putting my heart to the horse's that made me know the sorrow of horses, the sorrow of a brook greasing a field. The maggot turning in its corpse made me forsake my thumbs for the sheen of unshod hooves. And in this way drop my torches. And in this way drop my knives. Feel the small song in my chest swell and my coat glisten and twitch. And my face grow long. And these words cast off, at last, for the slow honest tongue of horses.

>> Wow. [Applause] Thanks a lot.

>> Ross Gay.

>> When Ross is a-- younger black voice folks might not know, you know, but you should run out and get some Ross Gay in your life because that poem isn't just about horses or even--

>> Right.

>> I mean, it's about I think being in the world and being alive to these moments. You've also, Tracy, started a podcast, "The Slowdown."

>> That's right.

>> Will you tell us about that?

>> Sure. "The Slowdown" is a daily-- a weekly-- a weekday, daily, five-minute podcast that includes a meditation on some aspect of life or experience that might open up a space for busy listener to receive the poem that is shared on the episode. And like the anthology, it features different poets, some of them-- many of them living but some of them gone. And I hope it's a way of encouraging people to say I can pay attention in a different way and I can receive something from these other or sometimes even unlikely sources that can be meaningful, lasting. So "The Slowdown."

>> Slowdown.

>> Slowdown.

>> That's the operative part.

>> I love that. Dr. Hayden, I was curious about thinking about the future. And what do you think of the future for libraries in general but also for the Library of Congress specifically?

>> Well, think about libraries is that new book "Palaces for the People"--

>> OK.

>> -- about libraries and it features New York public and in fact--

>> Yes.

>> -- and they are opportunity centers, they're bustling. They are all kinds. You're going to have the performance tomorrow right here. You have a shop. You have-- it's just hubs of activities and it get--

>> Keep going. We love your--

>> That's right. I mean, I saw the preview of the exhibit and I was just so excited saying oh, you know.

>> Right.

>> So libraries are these vital places particularly in communities and neighborhoods all over this country. And I don't think we appreciate them enough.

>> Let's give them a round of applause [applause].

>> Any young person [applause]. You have right here the papers of Ossie and Ruby.

>> Yeah.

>> The things you have, Langston, to see all of these things and to connect in the film department and all of these in prints and photographs. So that-- And what is going to happen at the Library of Congress is we're also going to be much more interactive and lively and letting people see, for instance, a treasure's gallery. We don't have a treasure's gallery at all. And so you will see the greatest hits from the Gutenberg Bible and that but you'll see Ralph Ellison's personal collection of books that he had in his apartment on Riverside Drive with the photographs of him surrounded by those books.

>> That's amazing.

>> Those types of things, the first film of Bessie Smith singing, you know, an old film, just a small clip, but we have it and have restored it. So you'll see all of those kinds of things.

>> Amazing.

>> And then an interactive kind of learning lab space where people can create their own things, recordings and things and interact with their primary sources and things.

>> That sounds--

>> So, you'll be hearing more. And we're using social media and doing that and putting up. So as I discover things I said, look, look what we have.

>> That's right. And I think that's so important for people to know that the library is there for them.

>> Yes.

>> And I know you all know this, but it's so important that it lived beyond these walls, you know.

>> Yes.

>> And I love how you've made that happen. I wonder what your first experience with library is.

>> Oh, well, someone said because I'm in this part of New York I wasn't supposed to mention that it was in Jamaica, Queens.

>> You can say. You can say that. It's all--

>> Little right across--

>> We'll, let it this time.

>> Right across from PS 96, you know, Ozone Park and all that, and a little store front. And that's where I learned my mom loves this. I had other experiences.

>> Sure.

>> But the one that really, well, [inaudible] for me was when somebody gave me that book "Bright April" there and it was the first time I saw myself in a book and I thought, oh boy.

>> Right.

>> This is something. So it was right across from PS96 and I learned about library fines because I took it out so much. So I always thought I kept it so long and my mom thought that I had-- that she had maybe purchased it. And then she got a note and said that-- and she gave me a-- she said OK, you can-- this is a lesson. You can either buy ice cream or pay your fine. And I hated to do it but I had to pay that fine. So--

>> You don't still owe 295 to the Queens--

>> No, no, no, no. But that exposure in having people who read or that and that my parents were musicians so they-- you know, that's why I'm a librarian.

>> That's--

>> No talent. No talent. But the idea that you could read-- they would read notes and hear music and I would read text and hear words.

>> Wow.

>> So it was a different everything. So I was always surrounded and you had an interesting--your dad was--

>> Yeah, tell us about your experience with either libraries or coming to the word.

>> Oh well, I'll touch both. My dad was a man who loved to read. He was like a kind of eclectic reader. But there's so many family portraits where somehow we're all sitting on a couch and he's got a book but he's like reading a book while everybody else is looking at the camera. And I feel like he instilled in all of us the sense that what you do, especially if you have nothing else to do, is go get a book and learn something.

>> Right.

>> Go some place with that book. And so that was in my home. And I also remember happy days at the library in my town at Fairfield, California with a little duck pond behind it going and getting those books off the shelves. I feel like the relationship with libraries continues to change from going to universities. One of my first jobs after college was working at UC Berkeley photographing some of the rare materials and observing people who-- you know, and you had to handle them and learning about the wealth and the history that libraries are also responsible for. And then, you know, I feel like you, visiting you at Emory a few years ago, you said name poets and I would name them.

>> You just brought the stuff out.

>> And then you would have these boxes brought out. And we would-- I remember we'd poured over Lucille Clifton's papers.

>> That's right, yeah.

>> And that to see poems that you love go from almost done and then that one change that makes it done is--

>> Yeah.

>> -- mind-blowing, you know, there's nothing like that.

>> No I think you're right. And, you know, obviously with our 11 million items here we could do the same thing 11 million times.

>> Right.

>> So it's incredible.

>> And the thing that we both talked about too was having a family environment or that think about kids that might not have it. That's where libraries can come in.

>> That's right.

>> August Wilson always talked about it. He graduated from the Pittsburgh public library.

>> Right.

>> They gave him a degree later. He'd skip school and go to the public library because that's the responsibility I think of public libraries to open up those worlds for kids too.

>> That's right.

>> That's what those librarians do. Here take this book. Here do this. It's OK, you don't have to look at a book. Just sit there, whatever.

>> Right.

>> But you're here.

>> Get warm or get cool and maybe along the way you'll find--

>> Yeah.

>> -- those things.

>> I witnessed that in a town called New Haven, Kentucky. We were-- It was a Saturday morning event in a really small public library but many people had come and among them in the front row was this little girl who was about eight, who had come by herself. She sat listening the whole time and then toward the end she raised her hand and asked a question. Her question was when did you know you had stories to tell? And, you know, I said, I was about your age when I had thought maybe. Do you have stories? And she said, yeah, I do, and she did. She told us some stories that were--

>> Right then?

>> Yeah, that were real. But that library is her home.

>> Haven.

>> That's right.

>> And those librarians look after her.

>> Right.

>> Someone walked her home.

>> Yes.

>> And they're giving her books that are going to help her.

>> Right.

>> That happens every day in public libraries all over this country.

>> That's right.

>> That is the safe haven.

[ Applause ]

>> Well, that's such an important sanctuary for people as you're saying.

>> It's a sanctuary and you can be different or you can just be yourself for that, and it's nonjudgmental.

>> That's right.

>> Yeah.

>> And I think it goes back to that idea of openness and there isn't something you shouldn't be able to discover there.

>> Right.

>> Yeah.

>> And I think that public library ethos is so important and it's not always what you see when you turn on the television, for instance, or you walk out the door and it feels like you're not supposed to think about this, you're not supposed to read about that.

>> You know, I've been doing a little research about desegregating public libraries in the south.

>> Nice.

>> Because people might not realize they're the public libraries in the south and there are several new books about that where those were the places that were needed to be desegregated. Spelman graduates, I just looked into that, desegregated the Atlanta Public Library and then years later a Spelman graduate became the head of L King J's, the head of--

>> Nice. That's right.

>> Yeah, that was a nice synergy. Tuvalu Nine, you hear about a lot of it?

>> Right, yeah.

>> Those students from Tuvalu who integrated and used library skills to do it. They came over from the college, the Jackson Mississippi Library. They now have a plaque out front. Eight of the nine are still living. What they would do-- This was a tactic in the south of the public libraries. Because sometimes-- and even Baltimore were-- still live as-- had colored branches.

>> Yeah.

>> So to keep black people from going to the main library out of there, they've established and they would just go there. So what the students did was they used the card catalogue and that's why they have card catalogue book. I'm so-- Think about that.

>> Yes, it's beautiful.

>> They would make sure that the books that they were going to request at this white central library were not available in the colored branch.

>> Nice.

>> Right. So they had done their library research because that was the standard answer. Well, we can get it out there, and they didn't do very well. So they came in with their list of books that they knew were only in that library.

>> Wow.

>> I thought that was--

>> Yeah.

>> I want that list.

>> Yeah.

>> The collector, I mean wants that list.

>> Yeah, you want to know what was there because they didn't have--

>> Yeah.

>> -- certain things.

>> Well, that's amazing.

>> Yeah.

>> All these questions, I think it's almost time to turn to the audience for questions.

>> Oh, great.

>> But I also want to ask Tracy, if you-- Before we do that, would you kick us off with one of your poems?

>> Oh, your--

>> OK, yeah sure.

>> -- from-- yeah.

>> Wade in the Water.

>> Yeah, whichever you want.

>> OK.

>> And this is a prize-winning book and, you know, bestseller.

>> Yeah, this is the book that won a thing called the Pulitzer.

>> Yeah.

>> Well, this is the book after the [inaudible].

>> Right.

>> This is the last poem in the book and I've wrote it trying to imagine, you know, I've been looking at a lot of history and realizing that the history that we cleave to as a nation to explain who we are and what we're here for is biblical history. That the myth of America is rooted in the Old Testament in a lot of ways. And so I said, well, what is a new myth? What would a new myth offer and what's the myth that we need? And I like to encourage people to think about that and writers out there write the poem that could be the myth that you feel that we as a nation need. So this was my attempt at that. "An Old Story." We were made to understand it would be terrible. Every small want, every niggling urge, every hate swollen to a kind of epic wind. Livid, the land, and ravaged, like a rageful dream. The worst in us having taken over and broken the rest utterly down. A long age passed. When at last we knew how little would survive us, how little we had mended or built that was not now lost, something large and old awoke. And then our singing brought on a different manner of weather. Then animals long believed gone crept down from trees. We took new stock of one another. We wept to be reminded of such color.

>> Wow.

[ Applause ]

>> [Background Music] OK. So that was Carla Hayden, Tracy K. Smith and Kevin Young speaking together at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Tracy K. Smith and Kevin Young have both written a lot of books. And if you lived in New York and you have a New York public library card, then you can check out some of their books either at one of our branch locations or on our app, SimplyE. Library Talks is produced by Schuyler Swenson with editorial support from Richert Schnorr and myself and our theme music was composed by Allison Leyton-Brown.