Oprah Sends Her Regrets

December 1, 2008

I was delighted this morning when Jenny Levine, ALA's own Shifted Librarian, pointed out to me the "Librarians Who Want Oprah to Come to the Amer. Library Assoc. Conference" page on Facebook. "Let's thank Oprah in person when we hit Chicago!" says host Sara Hansen, and I agree completely. I regret, however, that the inside scoop on Oprah is that she has already declined our invitation to speak at the conference next summer. Last April, before the 2008 ALA Annual Conference had even begun, a group of us at ALA Headquarters pounced on the idea that it just had to be Oprah for the 2009 conference in Chicago. Who says "Chicago" better than Oprah? Who says "books" and "reading" better than Oprah?  So we made some calls and then drafted a formal invitation, as requested. It went like this: Dear Ms. Winfrey: On behalf of the American Library Association, I am writing to invite you to be the keynote speaker at ALA’s 2009 Annual Conference, July 9-15. The keynote address is the grand kick-off to the conference and is scheduled for Saturday, July 11. This conference is expected to draw more than 25,000 librarians and reading advocates from across the country and around the world. It seems obvious to all of us that the person they would all most like to hear from is you—especially since the conference will be located right here in Chicago! Your contributions to America’s libraries over the years have inspired all of us who are involved in education and lifelong learning. The American Library Association venue would give librarians an opportunity to show their appreciation for the Oprah Book Club, the READ posters, the Angel Network, the new schools you’ve built, and all the other things you’ve done to promote reading, education, and literacy. It would also give you an opportunity to inspire all of us about what remains to be done and what lies ahead. Recent speakers at ALA conferences have included Barack Obama, Bill Bradley, Madeleine Albright, Al Gore, Jesse Jackson, Julie Andrews, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and many others. We would also like to offer a number of other opportunities during or leading up to the conference to talk about your initiatives, including an interview with American Libraries, the Association’s flagship magazine. It has been over a decade since the American Library Association awarded you Honorary Membership; we want to welcome you back home. In July, we followed up with another letter, this time to an assistant, Angela DePaul, who had been encouraging when we talked on the phone in April. We remained hopeful, but last week, I got the call I didn't want to get—from another assistant, letting me know that Oprah would be unable to appear at the conference. "She is not scheduling any other appearances for the coming year," I was told. I asked if there was any chance whatsoever that her plans could change. The answer was no. Immediately, we all began speculating about what cabinet position or ambassadorship she might be offered in the Obama administration. But that is, of course, anyone's guess. Maybe she turned us down because she is just plain too busy and won't be anywhere near Chicago next July. In any case, I wish there were something we could do to pursuade her to come. If Librarians Who Want Oprah can come up with a strategy, you can count on my support. Meanwhile, wait till you hear who we're after instead.