Book Beat
by Nicholas Schmiedicker - Wednesday, December 4th, 2013
Rosamond Gifford Lecture Series brings acclaimed authors to town

Every year, world-famous authors come to Syracuse to speak and impart their wisdom. It’s a chance to hear from the creators of works that have reached millions of people.

The Rosamond Gifford Lecture Series is in its 19th season of bringing world-renowned authors and writers to Syracuse. Jeffrey Eugenides and Gail Collins have already spoken. The rest of the lineup for the 2013-2014 season includes: Lee Child, Francine Prose, Neil Gaiman and Eric Schlosser.

Deborah Hole, the interim executive director for Friends of the Central Library, spoke about the type of experience one should expect. “The audience gets so much insight into the author and the challenges he or she faces,” Hole said. “They’re very vulnerable.”

Eugenides is most notable for The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex. He received the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. About 1,200 people attended the event on Oct. 29.

“The response was terrific and very positive,” Hole said. “He was very personal, and it showed in the answers he gave during the question and answer.”

Gail Collins, a New York Times columnist and op-ed editor, has written books including As Texas Goes: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda and When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960s to the Present. Her event was on Nov. 26.

Lee Child, author of more than a dozen thriller novels featuring the fictional former military policeman Jack Reacher, will speak on Dec. 17. The character was developed into the 2012 film Jack Reacher that starred Tom Cruise and grossed more than $200 million at the worldwide box office. The film was based on One Shot, the ninth book in the series.

March 11 brings Francine Prose, author of books such as A Changed Man and The Glorious Ones. Her book Household Saints was adapted into a movie, and The Glorious Ones was adapted into a musical in 2007.

The author who seems to have the most buzz comes April 29. Neil Gaiman is a Newbery Medal winner and author of the comic book series “Sandman” and books such as Stardust, Coraline, American Gods and The Ocean at the End of the Lane. He is a strong advocate for libraries and is expected to speak about the preservation of the public resource.

“Gaiman’s writing appeals to a large range of ages, and we love him because he loves libraries,” said Elizabeth Dailey, executive director at the Onondaga County Library. “It looks like we may even have a sold-out event, which would be tremendous for us.”

Eric Schlosser rounds out the list of visiting authors for this season. He’s an Atlantic Monthly correspondent and is famous for his investigative journalism. Fast Food Nation, a book about the unsanitary and discriminatory practices of the fast-food industry, was adapted into a film in 2006. He is also known for his three-part book Reefer Madness, which discusses the history and trade of marijuana. Schlosser will visit May 20.

Each year, the board members of Friends of the Central Library plan the upcoming season. They make a list of potential authors, contact their agents and stick to a strict budget to determine who will come the next year. The board members look for ways to have community outreach for each author to engage Central New Yorkers.

The Rosamond Gifford Lecture Series started in 1995, when the Onondaga Country Library was short of money. It wasn’t a bake sale that would save the library; instead, it kept to its roots.

“We looked around the nation and how libraries promoted reading and conducted fundraising, and a lecture series was the prevalent response,” Dailey said.

In the 19 years that Friends of the Central Library has existed and organized the lecture series, it has raised nearly a quarter million dollars. All of this is directed back to supporting the library.

“The proceeds mainly go to enhance library collections, which includes all libraries in the county,” Dailey said. “This will include books, DVDs and audiobooks.”

While the Gifford Lecture Series might be the most popular lecture series in Syracuse, it is not the only one. Phil Memmer, poet and director of the Arts Branch of the YMCA of Greater Syracuse, founded the Downtown Writer’s Center.

The center brings emerging and “so-called mid-list writers” to Syracuse in a more intimate setting. The center provides authors a chance to share work, focusing more on what they’ve written with short anecdotes of their process or thoughts. The series is intended as a chance for authors to speak more about who they are and what they believe, maybe with only brief readings of their work.

Yet the center and Gifford series are hardly competing with one another; twice in the past year they’ve collaborated. Eugenides was one such author, who came to the YMCA for a short reading along with speaking at the Gifford series.

Still, at the end of the day, it’s become increasingly difficult for libraries to attract visitors. Everyone at the library and Friends of the Central Library is hopeful that the Gifford series will spur attendance.

“Once you go to one, they grab you and you want more,” Hole said.

Memmer believes author readings and lectures offer something that can’t be found anywhere else.

“We’re all busy, and there’s so much competition: movies, music and concerts, television with really spectacular programs,” Memmer said. “But still, there’s something about sitting in a group and listening to a story,”[emptybox]

Gifford Lecture Series

When: 7:30 p.m.
Where: Crouse-Hinds Concert Theater, Mulroy Civic Center, 800 S. State St.
Tickets: $30 to $55 for adults; $10 for students with a valid ID.
Information: Call 435-1832, buy online at www.foclsyracuse.com or www.ticketmaster.com, or at the OnCenter box office.