Celebrating the Champions of the Los Angeles Public Library

On Sunday supporters of the Library Foundation gathered at the downtown Central Library to kick-off an evening celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Foundation. The Library was festively illuminated with pink lights growing brighter as the sun went down. After cocktails in the Maguire Garden, a marching jazz quartet led (some dancing) guests over to the California Club for dinner. For the last 25 years, the Library Awards Dinner has honored authors, philanthropists, individuals, foundations, and corporations who share a commitment to the Los Angeles Public Library. This year the Literary Award went to Salman Rushdie and the Light of Learning Award went to Sharon and Nelson Rising.

Salman Rushdie with author and board member Attica Locke and City Librarian John Szabo.

Before guests heard from honorees, the Library Foundation’s chair of the Board of Directors, Carla Christofferson, enthusiastically welcomed everyone, and reveled in the news that the dinner had raised over $1 million in funds to help support technology, educational, and cultural programs offered in all 73 libraries in the Los Angeles Public Library system.

Ken Brecher, the president of the Library Foundation, gave a touching tribute to Veronique Peck, who passed away last month. Veronique, along with her husband Gregory Peck, began the Gregory Peck Reading Series that has brought together renowned actors to read from beloved literature on the library stage. Veronique received the Light of Learning Award in 2009, and Gregory in 1996.

For this year’s Light of Learning honor, former California Senator John Tunney presented the Risings with their award for years of service to the library. Nelson, a real estate developer, first became involved when he helped with the plans for restoring the Central Library after the 1986 arson fire. Sharon, who has always loved to read and to volunteer for causes that benefit the greater good, has long been a champion of the Los Angeles Public Library.

Before the new City Librarian John Szabo presented the Literary Award, actor Bill Pullman read from Rushdie’s new memoir Joseph Anton. It did not go unnoticed that Pullman, famous for playing the President in the film Independence Day and giving a spirited monologue about freedom, was chosen to bring to life the words of a man who was forced to wage a real-life battle for his freedom of speech. Rushdie was very touched by Pullman’s performance, and joked about how his own writing (and life) seems like a plot for a Hollywood script.

In his acceptance speech, Rushdie defended the importance of libraries as the keepers of literature, although the form that books take may change, the need for stories will always exist. Even as a kid checking out comics from his lending library in Bombay, Rushdie recognized how special that exchange was—getting to learn about kryptonite was fascinating! He credits those experiences making him into the writer he is today, joining the ranks of Carlos Fuentes, Tony Kushner, Harper Lee, and Norman Mailer as past Library Literary Awardees.

Stay tuned for the video of Salman Rushdie’s ALOUD conversation with Louise Steinman, where he discusses his new memoir on his time in hiding when a fatwa had been issued against him for his novel The Satanic Verses.

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