The world was already coping with a viral pandemic, record unemployment and a faltering economy when the death of George Floyd sparked a national reckoning on racial injustice.
Where to look for voices of wisdom?
Throughout history, people have looked to poetry and literature to help them make sense of a world where little makes sense. Writers have a special gift that enables them to communicate what many of us are feeling in ways both insightful and comforting.
The Library of Congress has a long history of sponsoring great writers in programs such as its National Book Festival, marking its 20th anniversary this year, and through the honors it bestows such as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, the U.S. Poet Laureate and the Prize for American Fiction.
These Library “ambassadors” have inspired us to launch a series focusing on our national unease.
The “Hear You, Hear Me” series is named for a phrase from the Langston Hughes poem “Theme for English B”:
But I guess I’m what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you.
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.
This online series, a continuation of the themes raised in our June 5 program, “Carla Hayden and Lonnie Bunch: Cultural Institutions at Times of Social Unrest,” features Librarian of Congress Hayden in conversation with some of the nation’s great literary figures.
These presentations will premiere with closed captions on both the Library’s Facebook page and YouTube site, and will be available for viewing afterwards at those sites and on the Library of Congress website.
“Race in America: Jason Reynolds and Jacqueline Woodson” (Friday, June 19, 4-5 p.m. EDT)
To commemorate Juneteenth, the holiday marking the end of slavery, Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden chats with current National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Jason Reynolds and former National Ambassador Jacqueline Woodson about ways to hear and support kids during a period of nationwide protest against injustice.
“Race in America: Joy Harjo and Tracy K. Smith” (Thursday, July 9, 7-8 p.m. EDT)
Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden talks with her U.S. Poets Laureate appointees, Tracy K. Smith (2017-2019) and Joy Harjo (2019-current), about poetry in times of crisis as well as its enduring power to promote social justice.
“Race in America: Colson Whitehead” (Thursday, July 16, 7-8 p.m. EDT)
Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden talks to two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and National Book Festival veteran (2009, 2012, 2016 and this year) Colson Whitehead about the need for stories from our past to help us contend with the present—especially at moments of great change.
This series promises to be a welcome resource for those looking for intelligent, meaningful conversations on the national zeitgeist.
The 2020 Library of Congress National Book Festival will celebrate its 20th birthday this year. You can get up-to-the-minute news, schedule updates and other important festival information by subscribing to this blog. The festival is made possible by the generosity of sponsors. You too can support the festival by making a gift now.