The following is a guest post by Mal Haselberger, who just completed a 2020-21 academic year internship in Literary Initiatives.
After graduating with my master’s degree in literature in May 2020, I was convinced that my time working with novels, poetry, drama, and literary analysis was complete. I had recently accepted to begin my PhD studies in art history and was in the process of figuring out how to merge my appreciation for both fields into one. As a 2020 Library of Congress Junior Fellow and part of the first virtual cohort, I was assigned to work with the Literary Initiatives division at the Library of Congress, and three months of working on literary programming was hardly enough! I was fortunate to continue to work with the division as a virtual intern for an additional eight months during the end of 2020 and into 2021, and since then, my appreciation for the myriad ways that literature inspires and connects people has only grown. As an introduction to the impact of arts administration in all its intricacies, my internship provided me a space to think about the broader impact of cultural production in all its forms—written, spoken, and visual.
Throughout my time with Literary Initiatives, I’ve worked on a variety of projects that touch upon some of the Library’s signature literary programs and behind-the-scenes details that emphasize just how important literature is, both at the nation’s library in Washington, D.C., and into smaller communities across the country, urban and rural alike.
As an intern, I’ve compiled lists of authors who have received international literary awards—lists that speak to the up-and-coming voices in literature—and assembled publication dates and publishers for newly published novels, volumes of poetry, and non-fiction. I’ve written biographies for authors and moderators participating in the 2021 National Book Festival, and compiled copyright and permissions information for authors’ works cataloged in the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature. Most prominently, I researched and completed online resource guides for the 13 writers who have been awarded the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction since 2008.
In thinking about the many projects that I contributed to during my internship, the “behind the scenes” look at virtual programming has been most impactful. Early in my internship with Literary Initiatives, I attended a virtual event hosted by the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Jason Reynolds, who toured small-town schools as part of his “GRAB THE MIC: Tell Your Story” platform. Reynolds engaged in conversation with young people, asking and answering questions about their experiences and his own. During Reynolds’ virtual visit to West Virginia, which I attended, I was amazed at the kindness interspersed throughout his engagement with young people. The events themselves centered less on the understanding and analysis of literature known from the classroom setting, and more on the magic of hearing the voices of students—their lives, personalities, and aspirations—that reminded me why storytelling in all forms is so integral to human experience. Reynolds’ project reminds me of the importance of listening that must always accompany writing. It’s only when the story is heard and understood that we can learn from it and share its importance with the rest of the world. Especially during a moment of uncertainty and a virtual world in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the intimacy of the event made a life centered around screens feel more human and personal than I could have expected.
Beyond Reynolds’ “GRAB THE MIC: Tell Your Story” event, I was also fortunate to attend a virtual taping for the upcoming 2021 National Book Festival. The Library staff who attended and organized the taping, both in and out of Literary Initiatives, were especially inspiring to me—even beyond the author and moderator’s discussion. My time working with the Literary Initiatives division has shown me the amazing possibilities for the ways literature can bring together individuals, even in times of physical separation, serving as a wonderful reminder for how important it is to cherish the moments of togetherness. Like the best volumes of poetry, the division brings together inspiring voices and dedicated work into a tour de force that shows a commitment to lead the way for all people to have access to literature. When physical connection is impossible, literary programming provides a connection through language, ideas, and listening—finding bonds through the words on a page and spoken aloud.
As I embark on my own teaching career as a graduate student this year, I know that the many lessons and projects that I’ve worked on as an intern in the Literary Initiatives division will make a profound impact on my interactions with my students. I am undoubtedly a better writer, editor, researcher, and listener, and my experiences as an intern with the Library of Congress have prepared me to begin thinking about my own place in how I interact with, and learn the stories of, the voices around me. I look forward to being able to walk the halls of the Library of Congress’ buildings again to explore the spaces and histories that have been integral to many of the projects I’ve worked on as an intern. From the Coolidge Auditorium to the Main Reading Room, the Library’s halls will forever be a space for me to appreciate all the more the knowledge of the programs I’ve contributed to, my work in literary programming, and the lessons that have changed my own views of the role literature plays in bringing us together. On my next visit, I look forward to keeping in mind the sheer possibilities that literature’s virtual connections can open, and appreciating the physical ones all the more.