Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Room 419

Room 419 in the Boston Public Library is a small, paneled, ornamented space, just off the wondrous Abbey Room, (beyond the swinging doors), on the second floor of the McKim building.  The room has had many uses since its construction in 1895. It once housed the core of the library’s manuscript collection, known as the Chamberlain Autograph Collection, containing such historical gems as the letters of Dorothea Dix, John Hancock, and one William Dyer, who, poor man, begs  for the life of his wife, on trial for witchcraft in Salem. The room has served as a lobby. It has served as an office for secretaries and assistants. But its most recent function may be its most progressive; providing a “room of one’s own,” to an emerging writer of children’s literature. For the past eight years, the Associates of the Boston Public Library has offered this nine-month, Writer-in-Residence fellowship, which provides a generous stipend and a quiet oasis in the heart of one the world’s great libraries. The Associates underwrites many programs in service of the BPL and its community, including Literary Lights, Literary Lights for Children, a retroactive, 100 year National Book Award, and many other noteworthy exhibitions, musical performances, readings, and curatorial events. The heart of the Associates, however, is its mission to conserve and promote the inestimable treasures of the BPL’s special collections. (Just last week, I stood this close to a recently restored book once held in the hands of Benjamin Franklin, and did you know that the library of John Adams resides here?) This important work is devoted to connecting writers and readers across time.
     With the gift of room 419, the work continues.

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