By ERIN ALLEN
The Library’s exhibition “West Side Story: Birth of a Classic” took center stage in several media outlets in September. Opening Sept. 26 and on view through March 29, 2008, the exhibition celebrates the 50th anniversary of the musical’s Broadway opening. (See Information Bulletin, September 2007).
The Winter 2007 issue of The Sondheim Review delves into “the record left by the creators as they struggled to form one work out of their individual impulses,” referring to the principal architects of the show: composer Leonard Bernstein, choreographer Jerome Robbins, playwright Arthur Laurents and lyricist Stephen Sondheim.
“The Library sheds light on the process and, at the same time, allows a deeper appreciation and understanding of the product,” wrote reporter Brad Hathaway.
Peter Filichia of theatermania.com notes that the Library’s commemoration of the musical is fitting not only because the institution is the repository for the Leonard Bernstein Collection but also because Washington, D.C., is the city where the show played to its first audience during a five-week tryout period.
Also running stories about the exhibition were Roll Call, Washington Times, CBS News, playbill.com and Equity News.
September was also a busy month for the Library’s Veterans History Project (VHP), with the launch of a new outreach effort to gather wartime recollections that coincided with the broadcast of a World War II documentary, “The War,” produced by PBS and filmmaker Ken Burns. (See Information Bulletin, June 2007.) The seven-part series began airing on Sept. 23 and featured the personal accounts of a handful of men and women from four American towns: Waterbury, Conn.; Mobile, Ala.; Sacramento, Calif.; and the tiny farming town of Luverne, Minn.
“Oral history has never had more currency. From the Library of Congress initiative to record the tales of the eldest veterans to the modern military’s use of interviews as therapy for battle-scarred soldiers, oral history has become an increasingly prominent way to chronicle the past, both near and far,” wrote Alex Kingsbury of U.S. News and World Report. The reporter also praised the Library’s StoryCorps Project, which preserves the oral histories of ordinary citizens.
USA Today ran a series of articles about “The War” series, interviewing both Burns and Bob Patrick, VHP director.
Patrick told reporter Kate Naseef that the outreach effort has been successful in encouraging people to find out more about the veterans they know. “This Thanksgiving, they might be the topic around a lot of dinner tables.”
Reporter Gary Strauss spoke with Burns, who said he hoped that “The War” inspires viewers to talk with relatives about their war experiences and bolster the Library’s effort to collect stories for its archives.
The documentary also made the news in such outlets as NBC Nightly News, Associated Press, Chicago Tribune, the Journal Star of Peoria, Ill., capecodonline.com, washingtonpost.com and “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” who interviewed Burns.
Continuing to make news in October was the Library’s appointment of Charles Simic as the new poet laureate. (See Information Bulletin, September 2007). “He seems to be getting acclimated to all the hoopla that comes with the poet laureate nomination,” wrote Emily Parker of The Wall Street Journal.
In his interview with Parker, Simic discussed the differences between poetic life in the United States and Europe. “It’s more democratic, it’s kind of an expression of individuality, individual conscience, individual point of view,” said Simic of the United States. “It’s the only place we can say something about our private lives and hopefully make art.”
In other poetry news, Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winning poet W.S. Merwin received the 2006 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry for his book “Present Company,” published in 2005 by Copper Canyon. The New York Times, UPI, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Muncie Free Press each ran a notice about the award.
The National Book Festival in the News
The Library’s seventh annual National Book Festival achieved more media exposure than ever before, due in part to an increase in online outreach and coverage.
For the second year in a row, an online pressroom on the Library’s Web site provided the media with background materials, high-resolution images, B-roll, podcasts of author interviews and other audiovisual resources. Online press registration doubled to 140 media outlets, resulting in 73 print articles, 77 radio and television broadcasts and 670 online stories (totaling more than one billion impressions).
A special effort was made to reach out to Hispanic media and organizations, providing press materials in Spanish. The result was 15 print and 104 online stories in Hispanic media (totaling more than 7 million media impressions), and broadcasts from the festival by CNN en Español and Telemundo.
Blogs, such as the Library’s own blog, were used for the first time to promote the festival, and a social networking site through LibraryThing reached more than 200,000 book-loving members who discussed participating authors, tips for attending the festival and even bus rides to D.C.
Prior to the festival, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington and First Lady Laura Bush made appearances on Fox & Friends and C-SPAN and were interviewed by Cox News Service. Laura Bush and the National Book Festival were also mentioned on The Tonight Show and Late Night with Conan O’Brien.
Roll Call reporter Leah Carliner wrote “not many events can bring together a pastry chef, a poet laureate and the current president’s sister, but this year’s National Book Festival is designed to do just that” in her pre-festival story. Sharing her sentiments were such outlets as the Hill Rag and the Washington City Paper.
Long-lead stories appeared in Washingtonian, Washington Parent, Washington Flyer, Boys’ Life, Where Washington, Washington Life, DC Modern Luxury, Weekly Reader, American Road Magazine, Healthy Living and Wellness Magazine.
Library trades and blogs such as Book Publishing News, Library Journal, School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Writers Digest, Bookcrossing.com, BookLoons, techLEARNING.com, JacketFlap and Northwest Regional Library System also provided festival exposure, including coverage of the podcasts and the National Book Festival Young Readers’ Online Toolkit. The new toolkit, which reaches out to those unable to attend the festival, continued to receive media coverage after the event as a fun and engaging teaching tool that can be used by educators, parents and children year round.
Not only did popular magazines include information about the book festival in their calendar sections, but heavily-visited Web sites such as About.com, Forbes.com, Yahoo!, AOL, Frommers.com and DCist included festival coverage throughout the spring and summer months.
The Washington Post, a charter sponsor of the National Book Festival, reprised its series of online chats with authors in the weeks leading up to the festival. The Washington Post also ran a variety of pre- and post-festival stories, including a guide in its Book World section, a feature on its “Weekend’s Best” page and day-of coverage via Washington Post Radio.
Washington Post reporter Bob Thompson wrote, “To wander the Book Festival on a brilliant, blue-sky day was to be surprised by more than [Joyce Carol] Oates’s comic timing. We felt a lot like one of those supermarket prize-winners who’d been given a shopping cart and told they had 15 minutes to fill up.”
Throughout the day of the festival, Sam Litzinger of XM Satellite Radio and Book TV on C-SPAN2 broadcast live from the event.
Local broadcast news affiliates for NBC, ABC and Fox provided pre- and post-festival coverage.
Post-festival news also ran in the Associated Press, Washington Business Journal, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Chicago Tribune, Washington Examiner, Los Angeles Times, Forbes, The Seattle Times, Christian Science Monitor, New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle.
Phil Mattingly of capecodonline.com wrote, “For most visitors to Washington, D.C., the National Mall is a place to view symbols of American pride. For book lovers on Sept. 29, the stretch of grass and gravel between the Capitol and the Washington Monument served as 1.9 miles of paradise.”
Participating author Lisa Scottline had this to say about the book festival and Laura Bush in a column for the Philadelphia Inquirer: “Whatever your politics, you have to give major props to Mrs. Bush and hope that whoever moves into the White House continues her good works. Reading knows no political party.”