Thursday, June 28, 2012

PLA President's Program: Sherman Alexie

 The PLA President's Program begins with the bestowing of various awards and grants to librarians and library programs.  Then we heard from keynote speaker Sherman Alexie, which I was quite looking forward to as I'd heard he is a very good speaker.

Sherman Alexie began with his impressions of a library conference.  "There's an idea that it's boring and sedate, which it kind of is. But they get a little crazy by the time night falls."  He also compared him going to a library conference with some guys going to the Playboy mansion.  It was amusing.

Sherman Alexie talked about the oral tradition of storytelling, which is traditional in his culture.  In some ways, making the oral tradition official (writing it down) killed the tradition.  Then he seemingly randomly stared talking about Mike the Headless Chicken, and asked if anyone knew about it, which no one did.  The short version: Mike's owner tried to behead him for dinner, but did a poor job of it, missing most of the brain stem.  Mike lived on for 18 months, and he had his owner became Vaudeville performers during this time.  Sherman's question was, "how could we have forgotten something like that?"  How could we forget the amazing things that happen?  Why don't they get passed on?  His answer was that we're flawed, we can't possibly remember everything, not even the amazing things that happen in our own lifetime.

This is why we have books.  Writers preserve for us the amazing things that have happened, or their perception of the amazing things that have happened.  And we have librarians to give people the perfect books.  He ended by saying, "[I have the perfect book] should be tattooed on your ankle instead of some Chinese symbol.  You're magic.  You're amazing.  So why the fuck did you forget Mike the Headless Chicken?"

A librarian's job is "I have the perfect book."  A writer's job is "it happened." 

And then, the second, literally the second Sherman Alexie finished speaking and me began to applaud, the fire alarm in the convention center went off.  Interestingly, it was the exact same fire alarm we have at my school.  The one with the loud siren that pauses to tell you, "Emergency, emergency.  This is not a drill.  Please proceed to the exits."  So we did.  Well, most of us did.  I don't know if the people in the exhibit hall actually evacuated.  It turned out it was a false alarm.  To the left is a picture of a gaggle of librarians waiting under palm trees to be allowed back in.

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