By ERIN ALLEN
“As stuff of memory and culture becomes more ephemeral, small acts of rebellion proliferate. People cling to the tangible object, material matter that can be held in the hand, labored over and preserved,” began reporter Philip Kennicott of The Washington Post in his review of the Library’s “Voices From Afghanistan” exhibition. (See story on page 55.)
“We see this history in letters written by Afghans to Radio Azadi,” Kennicott continued. “[They] are fascinating for their simple, basic humanity of their requests, complaints and greetings. As you emerge from the exhibition with your BlackBerry buzzing in your pocket, it’s hard not to want to live in a world that might reasonably be limned by hand.”
Opened on Feb. 24 and on view through May 8, the “Voices from Afghanistan” exhibition received a variety of press attention following its debut. PBS NewsHour spoke with Mary-Jane Deeb, head of the Library’s African and Middle Eastern Division, who said, “In the future when researchers want to do research, they will have this material in the voices of the people themselves.”
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, who donated the letters to the Library, conducted interviews with visitors to the exhibition and posted them on their website at www.rferl.org .
Other outlets that covered the exhibit were DCist, Roll Call, The News Journal (Delaware), Pajhwok Afghan News and the BBC.
Letters are not the only way to express emotion. A good song can do just that. Several of country music’s top stars came to the Library in March as part of the “Story Tellers and Story Keepers” event sponsored by the Country Music Association. (See story on page 70.)
“While Nashville’s troubadours come to Washington to croon for the powers that be, you occasionally hear nerves fluttering through the drawl. That wasn’t the case Tuesday, though, at the Library of Congress’ Coolidge Auditorium, where there was confident stage swagger to spare,” wrote Chris Richards of The Washington Post.
“That’s the key to what we’re trying to do here,” said Sue Vita, chief of the Library’s Music Division. “[We want] to get more of this information out there so more people will use it.”
During a tour of the Library earlier that day, Kix Brooks of Brooks & Dunn fame remarked, “It’s nice to see the Europeans don’t have all the cool [stuff].”
The “Heard on the Hill” column of Roll Call made sure to call attention to the Librarian of Congress James H. Billington’s impromptu performance during the CMA event. “The octogenarian librarian surprised everyone” by performing a number himself—”There Stands the Glass,” a song he had heard on the radio during his youthful days in the military. He was rewarded with a "standing ovation by the charmed audience," a witness said.
In other song-related news, in March the Library staged the 1934 Harold Arlen/Ira Gershwin/Yip Harburg musical revue “Life Begins at 8:40,” the revue’s first live performance in 75 years. (See story on page 74.) Broadway and recording veterans Kate Baldwin, Christopher Fitzgerald, Montego Glover, Rebecca Luker and Faith Prince were among the performers. The event was noted in theater-focused websites Playbill, Broadway World and Theater Mania.
Country music and Broadway stage stars weren’t the only notable people appearing at the Library during the month of March. First Lady Michelle Obama joined Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and NEA President Dennis Van Roekel at the Library on March 2 to kick off the 13th annual “Read Across America” celebration. (See story on page 63.) They took turns reading aloud to more than 200 area students. Their presence at the institution garnered a slew of national media coverage, including UPI, The Associated Press, ABC News, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and American Libraries Magazine.
Journalist Hoda Kotb also came to the Library in March to deliver the keynote address for the Library’s celebration of Women’s History Month. (See story on page 64.) She later reported on her experience at the Library, during the fourth hour of NBC’s “Today Show,” where she serves as co-host with Kathie Lee Gifford. She called the Library “a very cool place” and compared Librarian of Congress James Billington to “a rock star.”
Erin Allen is acting editor of The Gazette, the Library’s staff newsletter.