StoryFest 2022 Author Q&A: The Role of Libraries

Wed, Sep 7, 2022
Cody Daigle-Orians
Clockwise from top left: Paul Tremblay, Mallory O'Meara, Gus Moreno, Stephen Graham Jones, Kate Racculia, Clay McLeod Chapman, Libby Waterford, and Alma Katsu

The fifth edition of StoryFest 2022 is just days away. To kick things off, we corresponded with a few of the 40-plus authors who will be in attendance to get their take on writing through the pandemic, the role of libraries in modern society, the power of books to transform lives, and why stories matter.

In the second in this four-part series, we asked Clay McLeod Chapman (Whisper Down the Lane, Ghost Eaters), Stephen Graham Jones (The Only Good Indians, Don’t Fear the Reaper), Alma Katsu (The Hunger, The Fervor), Gus Moreno (This Thing Between Us), Mallory O’Meara (The Lady From The Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick, Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol), Kate Racculia (This Must Be the Place, Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts), Paul Tremblay (The Cabin at the End of the World, The Pallbearers Club), and Libby Waterford (Can’t Help Falling in Love, Take Two) about the role of libraries.

[Related: StoryFest 2022 Author Q&A: Writing During the Pandemic]

Here is what they had to say:

We have been thinking about the role libraries play in the health of communities and the world as a whole. What role have libraries played in your writing life, or life in general? Why do you think libraries matter now?

Mallory O’Meara: I'm not exaggerating when I say I couldn't write without libraries! As a nonfiction author, it would be impossible to do the research for my books without public libraries. There isn't enough pie or whiskey in the world to adequately thank the librarians and libraries that have helped me write my books. The pandemic made it very clear that libraries are not simply book dispensaries; they are vital community centers. Whether you're looking for a new job, wanting to learn a new language, finding books for your children, needing help with a project at home, or just looking to connect with your community and meet people, nothing beats the library.

Gus Moreno: Libraries have played an incredible resource in my writing career. When I couldn't afford to buy books, I could always check it out at the library. No matter the building, there's always this subtle reverence to the atmosphere. There is no dividing line or exclusivity in a library. The place feels committed to knowledge and growth, and I think that's a space that will always matter.

Stephen Graham Jones: Two of the best places in the world are libraries and bookstores. So, related, two of the best people in the world are booksellers and librarians. They have recommendations, they can connect you to resources. And talking resources already on the shelf, that are probably pretty pricey to buy for this or that project, libraries are so vital. I've used them to research a lot of books, and when my kids were young and all my dollars had to go to diapers and apple juice, they provided me with most of my reading, too. And I'm still there probably every other week. Every walk down an aisle, there's another treasure waiting, another book that I can live with for the check-out period. Nothing better.

Paul Tremblay: When my children were younger, we would go to our town's library weekly during the summers. Hunting and then finding books and the excitement of checking them out and bringing them home are cherished memories. More recently, libraries and librarians increasingly have had the burden of being the heroes/sentinels of free speech, free expression, and education thrust upon them under the assault of the right's renewed book banning fervor. In the spring of 2022, a Milbury librarian discovered a patron was checking out and destroying books celebrating LBGQT+ themes. Upon this discovery, the amazing library and its community rallied and quickly raised funds not only to replace the stolen books, but to purchase more and multiple copies to share with other libraries. Libraries like Milbury matter because they house and celebrate all voices.

Libby Waterford: Libraries are where I discovered most of my favorite books and authors, where I can escape to find a moment of quiet and where I now come with my children to share my own childhood favorites and help them discover theirs. As a writer, libraries offer a safe haven for work and research as well as inestimable distractions should those be required!

Alma Katsu: I've always loved being in libraries, being surrounded by so much diversity, knowing you have access to nearly any book you could ever need. I've been lucky to have served as author representative on an ALA (American Library Association) subcommittee the past two years and have been saddened to hear of the challenges libraries face with the surge in challenges, book banning, and intolerance in general. It's undeserved stress on a valuable resource: librarians who just want to serve their communities.

Clay McLeod Chapman: I've been taking my kids to the library about once a week or every other week. It's blown their mind the have this exchange of books, where they check out and read, then return and check out more books. It's funny how the pandemic almost robbed them of the notion of what a library does. That said, when I was a kid, I have vivid memories of my grandmother taking me to the library and telling me I could check out any two books I wanted. She wouldn't curtail my choices. It could be whatever I wanted, which meant a lot of Stephen King and Gary Larson. One I had to read to myself and the other she'd read to me. To this day, I still have the most vivid memory of one particular book: North America's Greatest Monsters. I first learned about the Wendigo from that book, and it's haunted me ever since.

Kate Racculia: Libraries are one of the last great democratic institutions, a place where knowledge and information and literature and history are free and accessible. Like, think about that. They are free. Now, because of the collapse of various other parts of the social safety net, libraries are under pressure to be a social stopgap in many ways, but still: Libraries are the punk rock bastions of civic life, designed to support public welfare, public awareness, and to combat disinformation and ignorance. Epic.

I've loved them since I was a kid growing up in Syracuse — my local library hosted a stuffed animal sleepover — and let me tell you: I was beyond enchanted that my stuffies got to spend the night. I adored my elementary school librarian (hi Mrs. Griffin!). To be honest, I probably should have become a librarian myself, though I did work part-time for my beloved Bethlehem Area Public Library here in Pennsylvania (during the pandemic even), raising money and advertising programs and services. As a reader, libraries are where I've made some of my greatest book discoveries (Diana Wynne Jones!). As a writer, libraries are places to work, to research, to feel grateful to be a small part of a long tradition of thought and care, memory and truth and imagination. I freaking love libraries.

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