Natalie Portman is an Academy Award–winning actor, director, producer, author, and activist whose film credits include Black Swan, Jackie, and the upcoming Thor: Love and Thunder. She’s also a lifelong lover of books, reading, and libraries.
As honorary chair of National Library Week, April 4–10, Portman is highlighting the role that libraries, librarians, and library workers play in serving their communities, especially during challenging times. Portman spoke with American Libraries about her love of reading, her new picture book for kids, and what libraries mean to her and her family.
You have an active Instagram presence, where you regularly talk about books and promote literacy and education initiatives. Where did your appreciation for books and learning come from?
I started reading very early and never stopped. As a kid, my parents were always scolding me to look up from my book when crossing the street. Or when we were in the car, to stop reading and look out the window.
How do you choose what to read; are you drawn to a particular genre or authors?
I choose books based on instinct and on recommendations from trusted friends, booksellers, and authors I love, like if I read an interview with them and they recommend something. I try to vary genres as much as possible to ensure I’m exposed to as many different ways of seeing the world [as possible]. I could very easily get sucked into just fiction and poetry, which I naturally gravitate toward, but I’m always expanded by diving into nonfiction, essays, histories, and science writing. I love hearing people’s reactions to books I’m reading and often learn so much from their comments.
You added children’s book author to your résumé with the publication of the picture book Natalie Portman’s Fables (Feiwel and Friends, 2020) last fall. It’s a lovely work, notable for inclusive storytelling that’s equitable in its depiction of gender roles. What was the inspiration behind the book?
I was reading classics that I had grown up with to my kids, and I realized the characters were predominantly male. I wanted to preserve the tales that I and generations have loved but make the characters reflect the world we live in.
As a star in the Thor franchise, you’re now a part of the Marvel universe. Did you grow up reading comic books or graphic novels? And what do you think about them as literature or literacy tools?
I wasn’t a comic book or graphic novel reader as a kid, but I’ve been introduced to the world through my work—first in the 2005 film V for Vendetta and now with being part of Thor. It’s been an incredible window into a form of storytelling that is so alive and fun. And it can often have very potent commentary on the world we live in, but from the vantage point of a fictional universe—especially in the case of someone like [V for Vendetta author] Alan Moore’s work. It’s so wonderful to see how graphic novels can engage young readers. The best literacy tool is joy. Everyone should be reading what they love and what excites them, particularly young people as they are starting their reading journeys.
This year’s theme for National Library Week is “Welcome to Your Library,” which promotes the idea that libraries extend beyond the four walls of a building and that everyone is welcome to use their services. What are your thoughts on the library’s role in the community?
Libraries are really the last bastion of community and sharing in public life in the US. They’re beautiful for the tools they offer: public space, public services, and equal access to resources and information. But they also symbolize a spirit where knowledge is important, where different backgrounds and perspectives are celebrated and welcome, and where it’s more important for everyone to share than for an individual to own. These are incredibly beautiful values, and I like my family participating in those values.
What role does the library play in your life now? Can you share a favorite library memory?
I take both of my kids to our local library for story hour, and of course, to take out books—usually 20 at a time—so we can mix up bedtime reading regularly. My favorite has always been storytime and games and crafts with the librarians, where all of us exhausted parents and caretakers can rest for an hour together as our kids are captivated by an incredible librarian reading to them. I love watching their little rapt faces listening, sitting cross-legged, all trying to get up close to the pictures.