We Can Be Heroes

Brad Meltzer stresses the importance of personal legacy

June 26, 2016

Brad Meltzer
Brad Meltzer talks about your life legacy during his Auditorium Speaker Series presentation. Photo: Cognotes

“There’s no more subversive or awesome group than librarians.” Brad Meltzer opened his President’s Program talk at the 2016 ALA Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida, with praise for his audience, and a story.

The best-selling author of thrillers The Inner Circle and The Fifth Assassin and host of Brad Meltzer’s Decoded and Brad Meltzer’s Lost History on the History Channel detailed how he was invited to Bulgaria for a press tour—only to arrive in the Eastern European country to discover that they were under the erroneous assumption that he was the best-selling author in the United States. Meltzer laughed at the thought, and the self-deprecation continued throughout the program. Meltzer is naturally funny. And humble. Rather than focus on his work, Meltzer used his time to talk about the importance of one’s legacy and how our life’s work should be to have a positive impact on the lives of others—not wasted solely in pursuit of fame and celebrity.

“If you figure out who’s going to remember you, you’ll know how you’ll be remembered” Meltzer said. “The things you do for other people: That’s your legacy.”

Meltzer detailed the four types of legacy: family; teachers, mentors, and friends; community; and strangers. Each of these groups of people influences your life. In turn, they can be influenced by decisions that you make in your life—whether you are aware of it or not, Meltzer said.

“I had my life changed by a librarian” he said, even though he never knew her name. Meltzer remembers going to the library in Brooklyn with his grandmother as a young boy, where the librarian said to him, gesturing to the kids section, “These books are yours.” He took her words literally, saying that he wanted nothing more as a child since his parents weren’t active readers. Meltzer said he’s spent years trying to track down that librarian to thank her with no success. (That may change in the near future, however: During the question-and-answer segment of the program, an audience member said that he knew which branch library Meltzer visited as a child, and he could help him find that librarian.)

Meltzer’s strong belief in the power of everyday people to impact and change the world is captured in his series of children’s books. He said that despite all of the accolades and being named one of the most influential writers in Hollywood, a New York Times bestselling author, a TV show host, a guest at the White House, and even a one-time terrorism consultant for the Department of Homeland Security, he considers this book series to be his true legacy to his kids, because it’s introducing them to positive role models and the importance of being true to oneself.

Meltzer’s I Am… series chronicles the lives of a variety of historical figures, detailing aspects of their lives both famous and obscure. Profiled individuals include Amelia Earhart, Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks, Albert Einstein, Lucille Ball, Helen Keller, Martin Luther King Jr., George Washington, and Jane Goodall. The non-famous parts of these individual’s biographies often have the most impact, Meltzer said. He illustrated this point with an anecdote from I Am Abraham Lincoln. As a boy, Lincoln overcame peer pressure and stopped a group of kids from torturing a turtle, because it was the right thing to do. Meltzer said the story affected his young son deeply, and the boy now sleeps with a plush turtle at night in honor of Lincoln, the man who saved the turtles.


Brad Meltzer on the Power of Books


Billy Collins (left) and Viet Thanh Nguyen

Mann, Nguyen Awarded 2016 Carnegie Medals

The winners for excellence in fiction and nonfiction are recognized