June marked a pretty busy time here at the Library of Congress with some big-ticket announcements. From naming a new Poet Laureate and pivotal books in America’s history to recent collection acquisitions, the institution was making regular headlines.
In announcing Mississippi native and Pulitzer Prize-winning Natasha Trethewey as Poet Laureate, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington told the New York Times, “We’re not necessarily on some kick to find a younger poet. The more I read of it, American poetry seems extremely rich in diversity, talent and freedom of expression, and she has a voice that is already original and accomplished. I have an affinity for American individuals who are absolutely unique, and I think that this is one.”
“You know, when you win the Pulitzer, people tell you that you now know what the first line of your obituary will be,” Trethewey told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “When I met with the people at the Library of Congress a few weeks ago, they told me now you know the line that will replace that Pulitzer line.”
Trethewey told the Biloxi Sun Herald that many of her influences have themselves been poets laureate, including Robert Penn Warren, Rita Dove and Philip Levine.
Other major outlets running stories included PBS NewsHour, NPR, the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, USA Today and Reuters.
“Happily, the Library of Congress’s latest exhibition, ‘Books That Shaped America,’ ignores the familiar high-culture shibboleths and embraces cook-books (Irma Rombauer’s ‘The Joy of Cooking’) and schoolbooks (McGuffey’s ‘Primer’), mysteries (Dashiell Hammett’s ‘Red Harvest’) and science fiction (Ray Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451’), political tracts as well as poetry, both Dr. Seuss and Dr. Spock,” wrote Michael Dirda for The Washington Post.
John Cole, director of the Library’s Center for the Book, told Roll Call, “ We want to start a national conversation about great American books. We hope this list encourages people to read some of the books we have chosen.”
Billington told Bloomberg News that, of the books selected, Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” holds a special place in his heart as he remembered the impact it had on him as a college student.
USA Today, the New York Daily News, the Huffington Post and CBS News also featured the list.
The books announcement was part of the Library’s “Celebration of the Book,” an ongoing series of programs, symposia and other events that explore the important and varied ways that books influence our lives. As part of the celebration, the Library also hosted a conference honoring the enduring legacies of three key events that shaped America’s knowledge-based democracy: passage of the Morrill Act, the founding of the National Academy of Sciences, and the founding of the Carnegie libraries.
Time Magazine’s Elizabeth Dias covered the event, noting the benefits of all, particularly libraries, which she called “vital engines of America’s social mobility from their earliest days.”
The story also made headlines in The Hill, ABC News, the Associated Press and The Washington Post.
Speaking of things that helped shape our country, one of the Library’s new collection acquisitions features candid interviews with some of the most important musicians of the 20th century. Music mogul Joe Smith donated more than 230 hours worth of audio interviews from music’s rock stars, producers, songwriters and more.
Smith said in a statement, “In recent years it dawned on me that, if anything, the significance of recollections from Jerry Lee Lewis, Mick Jagger, Smokey Robinson, Ahmet Ertegun, Herb Alpert, Ruth Brown and all the other notables I was fortunate enough to interview are truly part of the fabric of our cultural history. I wanted to share this treasure-trove with any and all who might be interested.”
Several outlets featured the announcement, including the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, CBS, the New York Times, Time, Rolling Stone and the Associated Press.
In other acquisition news, the Library received the papers of noted astronomer Carl Sagan thanks to a donation from “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane.
“All I did was write a check, but it’s something that was, to me, worth every penny,” MacFarlane told the Associated Press. “He’s a man whose life’s work should be accessible to everybody.”
“In the papers, we see Sagan imagining life not only on Venus and mars but even beneath the surface of the moon. That’s the young Sagan, fresh out of the University of Chicago,” wrote Washington Post reporter Joel Achenbach. “We also see the mature Sagan pondering the tendentious issues of God and the relationship of science and religion.”
“The Sagan collection itself has enough appealing personal material to fascinate, well, maybe millions,” said Washington Times reporter Jennifer Harper. “The scientist’s extensive correspondence with colleagues and famous people until his death in 1996, his book drafts, his academic notes as an instructor at Cornell University and even his birth announcement and elementary school writings are part of the cache.”
Running the story were the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Science Magazine and ABC, among others.