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Princeton Public Library Buzzing as Hermann Gets A-List Authors, Including Jhumpa Lahiri

jhumpalahiriAt last week’s monthly meeting of the Princeton Public Library Board of Trustees, Programming Librarian Janie Hermann gave out the scoop on upcoming celebrities who will be stopping by the library in the coming weeks and months.

Featured authors include Ann Leary, Shannon K. O’Neil, and Steve Schirripa (Bobby Baccalieri of The Sopranos). Ms. Leary will speak about her newly published novel, The Good House, on April 3; Ms. Neil will discuss Two Nations Indivisible: Mexico, the United States and the Road Ahead, on April 18; and Mr. Schirripa shares his insights as the father of two daughters in his new book, Big Daddy’s Rules: Raising Daughters is Tougher than it Looks on May 15.

But perhaps the biggest suprise in store for library patrons this year will be talks by Matthew Quick, author of The Silver Linings Playbook and Jhumpa Lahiri, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning Indian American author of Interpreter of Maladies (1999), The Namesake (2003), and Unaccustomed Earth (2008).

Ms. Lahiri’s visit is something of a coup. It has been five years since her last book.

“When I took on this job five years ago, my goal was to add A-list authors to the roster of local author and book group events that were then taking place at the library. When we got the call about Ms. Lahiri, I knew we had made it,” Ms. Hermann told the board. “We will be looking for a venue for Jhumpa Lahiri’s talk, which we expect will draw a larger audience than the library can accommodate.” The library estimates that more than 200 people will want to attend the event and since the Community Room on the first floor holds a maximum of 150, another space will have to be found.

Last year, using social media, Ms. Hermann was able to attract Molly Ringwald to the library. “I had tweeted her agent to see if she was available”, said Ms. Hermann. “She wasn’t but it put us on the radar and when later she had a cancellation in her book tour, she reached out to me.

“Twitter has been great in connecting with publishing houses and authors,” said Ms. Hermann, adding that Ms. Ringwald received no payment for the visit and that all of the money for these events, as for all public programming at the library, comes from funding such as a challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Friends of the Princeton Public Library; no library funding from local taxes is used.

Ms. Hermann was also quick to point out that as exciting as such big name visitors are, Princeton has more than its fair share of homegrown talent. So much in fact that there is just not enough time in the annual calendar to feature them all. Hence Local Author Day, which this year will be held on Saturday, April 13.

This year, Local Author Day will include Admissions author Jean Hanff Korelitz; Meg Cox, author of The New Book of Family Traditions; John W. Hartmann, author of Jacket; and the writing team John P. Calu and David Hart with their new novel Spirits of Cedar Bridge. A further 40 local writers will have a chance to share their work. “Local Author Day celebrates the writers in our midst as well as several book publishers and editors. This year, there were 80 applicants for 40 spots,” reported Ms. Hermann.

Ms. Hermann was also excited to announce the library’s selection of The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick as this year’s Princeton Reads, the town-wide literacy and literary celebration that is held every other year. “We are very lucky to have the author because he is much in demand right now,” she said, referring to the film adaptation of Mr. Quick’s book that was nominated for no less than eight Academy Awards earlier this year. Described as “super engaging, warm and sharply funny,” the film stars Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, and Chris Tucker. Ms. Lawrence won the Oscar for Best Actress. Mr. Quick, who hails from southern New Jersey and is a former high school teacher, will be coming to the library to promote The Silver Linings Playbook and his new young adult novel Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock.

Timing invitations to authors is something of a fine art that Ms. Hermann has mastered. “People constantly make suggestions for big name authors but what they don’t realize is that unless authors are on a book tour when they will come for free or for very little, most high profile writers can command fees of the order of $10,000. The library doesn’t have a budget for that, so I try to find authors who not only fit the needs of the library but are available to us for free.”

The board commended Ms. Hermann for the successes of her first five years and asked about her goals for the next five. She said that while continuing to draw “big names,” she wants to serve the local population including the 30-45 age range, a notoriously difficult demographic to attract, and to reach out to Princeton’s Latin American community. “There’s a balance to be achieved between keeping it local, providing something for everyone, and having recognized authors,” she said.

Mr. Quick’s talk will take place on November 15; Ms. Lahiri’s on October 2. Added to all of this is the annual benefit hosted by the Friends of the Library, which this year will be held October 19 and bring the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and New Yorker editor David Remnick to the library for a conversation with Princeton’s own John McPhee and Paul Muldoon. Now that’s a line up!

For more information on library programming, visit: www.princetonlibrary.org. For more about the October benefit,call The Friends of Princeton Public Library: (609) 924.9529, ext. 280 or email gcampanellasnow@princetonlibrary.org.

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