Before you knew her as relationship columnist Carrie Bradshaw, the youngest spell-casting Sanderson sister, or even a Square Peg, Sarah Jessica Parker was unknowingly preparing for the roles of a lifetime: book club ambassador, literacy advocate, and library supporter.
“No one could leave the house without something to read,” Parker fondly recalled that rule of her mother’s before a packed auditorium at the President’s Program of the American Library Association’s (ALA) Annual Conference and Exhibition in Chicago on June 24. Growing up, Parker and her seven siblings were constantly shuttled to the Clifton branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, which made a big impression on the award-winning actor. Today she is a member of multiple book clubs, leader of online book discussions, frequenter (with her family) of the Jefferson Market branch of the New York Public Library, and past appointee to President Obama’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, and has launched her own publishing imprint, SJP for Hogarth.
“I have wanted for a very long time to take a more active and public role in supporting writers, readers, and libraries,” said Parker, who was on hand to launch ALA’s new online platform of reading resources and recommendations, Book Club Central, of which she serves as honorary chair. Alongside ALA President Julie B. Todaro, Parker unveiled the website and the club’s inaugural fiction selection: No One Is Coming to Save Us (Ecco, 2017) by Stephanie Powell Watts.
“It is my great hope that Book Club Central will serve as a conversation starter for communities across the country, as an amplifier of powerfully original and creative voices,” Parker said. Through Book Club Central—a joint effort of Booklist, United for Libraries, and the Libraries Transform campaign—Parker says she aims to recommend “books that are richly deserving of finding a broad readership.”
Todaro kicked off the session by gifting the actor a special recognition. “Our board voted unanimously to honor you with lifetime board membership in United for Libraries,” said Todaro. “And our next meeting is tomorrow at 2:30,” she joked.
Parker bandied back, “I will work very hard to be deserving and worthy and to make as many board meetings as I can.”
Book Club Central’s first pick
Parker was joined onstage by Watts, a Whiting Award winner and Lehigh University professor, along with moderator Donna Seaman (Booklist’s editor for adult books) in an intimate-style book talk for No One is Coming to Save Us, a novel that explores the American dream among African Americans living in the contemporary South and that is inspired by The Great Gatsby.
“I knew my story was about loss, and the loss of industry, ghosts, the air of Jim Crow,” said Watts. “The things that bring us back home, which are love and prospect of love.”
Much of the book is inspired by Watts’s own upbringing in North Carolina, and moving to “lots of little towns” after her parents divorced. “My mom was a single mom and she would take us to the library. I mean, where else in the world could you go and be welcomed with these five little kids?”
Parker praised Watts’s writing style. “You take these very complicated issues and themes, you pull us through with such ease,” she said, while Seaman pointed out the “ongoing humor” Watts brings to a story punctuated by complexity and loss.
“I shouldn’t say anything! I shouldn’t say anything!” Parker found herself repeating a few times, trying to curb spoilers from the book as she got rapt in discussion.
“I think the books I love are books about people I don’t know, people the most unlike me, lives that feel far away and different,” she concluded. “I’m most drawn to that because it’s like traveling.”
Parker also had high praise for librarians. “If a library is the very heart of a community, the librarians keep the heart beating,” she said. “You can’t know what your physical, emotional, and intellectual shelter has meant to me.”
Sarah Jessica Parker on the joys of reading:
Stephanie Powell Watts on books, influence, and libraries: