Tag Archives: nypl

Night At The Library


One of my favorite books of all-time is E.L. Konigsburg’s “From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.” I was riveted by the story of a sister and brother who run away from home and life in the Metropolitan Museum of Art AND solve a famous art mystery. I gift this book to little aspiring word/art nerds all the time. I recommend it to adults. I still occasionally dream I’m living in the book.

A month or so ago, I came across a tweet about  spending the night at the New York Public Library, writing a book about 100 items in their permanent collection. I realized if I was ever going to make my childhood dream of living in the “Mixed-Up Files” book happen, it was going to be with this. I watched the video. I applied. They were only taking 500 people, so I promptly forgot about it. Three weeks later, I received an email letting me know I was one of the “chosen ones.”

I showed up at the library last Friday at the appointed time with a backpack full of pens, notepads of all sizes, a sweater, a bottle of water, some snacks, an iPhone charger, and various other items. Even after consulting the private Facebook group for the event, it was clear no one knew what to expect…

We were 500 word nerds locked overnight in one of the most famous libraries in the U.S., running around locating rare objects, touring the infamous library stacks, and causing a sweet ruckus in the main reading room. I realized the only way to describe this event properly was by creating a photo diary of the images I took that night. If you read the lengthy captions, I promise it will feel just like a blog post.

Now that I’m on the other side of it, I can say nothing about that night was ordinary.  We came. We saw. We wrote the book. It is now in the permanent collection of the New York Public Library and all of our names are listed as authors in the library’s catalog. The night was a reminder of how awesome and awe-inspiring working with a group of strangers can be. It was also bittersweet, in that we all recognized how special a library truly is; what it has given and continues to give us as a public institution. It was very likely each one of us in that room had been touched and inspired by books in our local libraries. They were our dealer to the gateway drug of words. It’s only right that we all take a moment and a dollar (or more) to give back, so that other little nerds have a home to feel the same way about books as all of us did and do.

If you’re in New York, you can still play a version of the game we played  in the library (which acted as a prompt to write the book),  by clicking here.

P.S. If this had existed as a “thing” before the 500 of us inaugurated it, you can guarantee it would have been on my life list. 

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A Night of Queens

June 11th brought with it a windfall of invitations to some very New York events. Apparently, it was a night fit for a queen or, more accurately, queens. I had to choose between an event at the NYPL with Queen Noor of Jordan, an evening of theater seeing MARY STUART at the Broadhurst Theater or a gala benefit foramFAR hosted by a different sort of queen, “Lady Bunny.”

Harriet Walter and Janet McTeer

Harriet Walter and Janet McTeer

Despite the unique appeal of each event, I had to choose just one. I went with MARY STUART, because I can’t pass up a good Elizabethan drama. I arrived in Times Square directly from work and was still emailing from my Blackberry. Since I had enough time to spare, I took advantage of the new lawn chairs in the middle of Broadway and finished up the last of my emails sitting on a lawn chair right in the middle of the square.

By the time MARY STUART started, my exhaustion hit and despite the intriguing story line, it was a struggle for me to stay awake at first. But then I hit a point (and a second wind) where I was swept away in the language, the rhythm, lyrical dialogue and powerhouse acting of Janet McTeer (as Mary Stuart) and Harriet Walter (as Queen Elizabeth). They truly deserve the title of theater royalty.

Earlier this theater season I saw another member of theater royalty when actor Frank Langella starred in A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS. Though I am a fan of Langella’s work, SEASONS didn’t stir my emotions the way MARY STUART did. SEASONS gave us a portrait of a complicated and multi-layered man, something we’re used to seeing so much in theater that now it’s a bit old and overplayed. MARY on the other hand, was fluid, intriguing and dynamic. Perhaps this is because we don’t see many women on stage represented as complicated and multi-layered, especially during the time period of MARY.

The big second act rain/rebirth scene left me feeling like I’d witnessed one of those moments in live theater that people talk about for decades; it felt like a privilege. It also perfectly illustrates what I love about live theater: it’s a moment shared intimately by the actors and the audience. It only happens once, and, though it’s played out again and again, night after night, it’s always different. The audience gasps when the mists of rain suddenly come down and I wonder if that same reaction happens nightly. I wonder if rhythms in the character’s big monologues change, if the energy is different, how the theater smells (always a combination of upholstery and women’s perfume), if someone dropped a line, changed the order, missed their mark or is so caught up in the scene, they almost forget to breathe. Such elements can rearrange the molecules of a production leaving a mark like DNA, one that can never be duplicated — it’s there and it’s gone in an instant.

But no matter which night you go and which performance you see, the words are intact, the meaning translated; the audience moved. Just like the moment the rain appears on stage (whether you are surprised or not at its appearance), I gasp when I think of the singularity of what I’ve witnessed and how it can never be completely captured in that way and on that stage again. I suppose that also holds true for any of the other events I could have attended that evening, but MARY STUART captured my spirit. And in witnessing that performance, my very molecules were rearranged.

Janet McTeer as Mary Stuart

Janet McTeer as Mary Stuart