Members and friends of the American Library in Paris gathered for the 2018 Gala Dinner featuring award-winning author and literary luminary Salman Rushdie. This special evening, held at the Westin Paris-Vendome, is the primary fundraising event of the year.
The festivities began with an elegant cocktail reception, as guests mingled and sipped champagne amid the olive trees and bougainvillea of the Summer Terrace at the Westin Paris-Vendôme. I was thrilled to attend the event, complete with a gourmet dinner in the magnificent grand salon adorned with Second Empire style frescoes.
Guests were warmly greeted by Library Director, Jeffrey Hawkins, who d his passion and vision for this wonderful institution. He noted that the American Library plays a vital role for Americans and English speakers living in, or visiting, Paris, not only as a library, but also as a welcoming place where people can meet, devour books, exchange ideas and enjoy a cultural exchange. He also recognized the dedicated people whose generosity and continued support make the Library possible.
Deputy Director Audrey Chapuis enthusiastically introduced Salman Rushdie as the headliner for this year’s Gala. Listeners sat spellbound as Rushdie, a Commandeur in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and knighted by the Queen of England, reflected on the roots of his own love of literature, the “wonder tales” of the East, noting that they still provide a lens through which to view and understand our human experience. He stated that all writers love libraries and noted that, “The history of Americans in Paris is very profound and I am happy to be a part of that tradition of Americans in Paris.”
As he celebrated literature and the American Library in Paris, Rushdie said, “We are all driven by stories. It is by stories that we explain ourselves to each other.” This wisdom goes directly to the mission of the American Library, which is to offer a place to be together, to merge culture with history, and to tie us to our origin.
The American Library in Paris, a not-for-profit institution, was founded in 1920 by the American Library Association and the Library of Congress to house over a million books sent to United States soldiers fighting in World War I. The Library has since grown into the largest English-language lending library on the continent. Its motto, “After the darkness of war, the light of books”, reflects the spirit of its creation. Almost a century later, this motto still thrives as the Library looks forward to celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2020.
With over 4,000 members, the Library serves as a place to celebrate the written word and to promote ties. Board Member Nadine Voisin commented that the vision of the Library is “to serve not only as a library, but also as a cultural hub for the Americans and others who are living in or visiting Paris and seek a place where people can exchange ideas and connect.”
Located within a stone’s throw of the Eiffel Tower, the Library is a welcoming haven to 80,000 visitors a year, who can enjoy the extensive resources of academic, historic, and popular materials available for lending and consultation. Since major renovations in 2016, the Library is even more inviting, including a newly created member’s lounge – a calm oasis where people can gather, sip a coffee, peruse the paper, and chat.
There are many benefits of membership including borrowing privileges, access to digital databases, the Internet and other library sources. In addition, members are offered a rich program of events and activities for all age groups, which include readings by prominent authors, English and French conversation circles, classes, book groups, library special programs and children’s programs. Daily or weekly passes are available providing unlimited access to the collections and unlimited Wifi access.
Membership to the American Library offers book lovers and Francophiles, residents and visitors alike, a gathering place and a home away from home, as well as an opportunity to help provide resources to sustain and grow this intellectual and cultural center. I encourage you to visit this wonderful place the next time you are in Paris. We need institutions like the American Library more today than ever!
Location: 10, rue du Général Camou, 7th arrondissement