Amanda Gorman, the Inaugural Youth Poet Laureate of the United States, who stole the show at President Biden's inauguration this week—will speak at the 2021 American Library Association virtual Midwinter Meeting, which now is underway and will run through Tuesday, January 26.
Gorman is set to deliver a reading from her forthcoming lyrical picture book Change Sings on Monday, January 25, 2021, at 11:10 a.m. CT—followed immediately by First Lady Dr. Jill Biden. Biden's talk is set for Monday, Jan. 25, 11:15–noon CT, in conversation with ALA president Julius C. Jefferson, Jr.
The appearance by Dr. Biden, a prominent educator and education advocate, will be her first major talk as First Lady and is a prominent, welcome show of support for the library community—and a sign that the new administration views libraries as vital institutions after four consecutive proposals by the Trump Administration to permanently eliminate the Institute for Museum and Library services as well as virtually all federal support for libraries.
Indeed, in the early days of the Biden Administration, there is already a noticeable shift toward investing in America's libraries, including in the Biden Administration's proposed $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, and in the recently introduced Economic Justice Act which includes $59 billion for school and library infrastructure. “We are honored that Dr. Biden will be joining us at the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting. Librarians are among her most ardent supporters, and I know that I speak for many when I say this conversation will be something they cherish for a long time,” said Jefferson, in a statement. "As our nation’s students struggle with distance learning, maneuvering digital jungles and grappling with digital literacy, we believe librarians and library workers have a critical role to play in supporting the needs of learners."
ALA 2021 Midwinter Speaker Highlights
The featured speaker programs for the Midwinter Meeting begin on Saturday with a can’t-miss discussion featuring Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha Blain (10–11 a.m. CT).
Kendi is the founding director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research, and the bestselling author of five books, including Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, which won the 2016 National Book Award for Nonfiction; How to Be an Antiracist, which topped bestseller lists for much of the summer; and Antiracist Baby, illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky. Blain is a historian at the University of Pittsburgh and the president of the African American Intellectual History Society. She is the author of Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle of Freedom and Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer’s Vision of America. In February 2021, Kendi and Blain will release a joint effort, Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619–2019, which publisher One World describes as a “choral history” of African Americans, covering 400 years of history in the voices of 80 writers.
Later on Saturday, actor and director Ethan Hawke takes the virtual stage (12:30–1 p.m. CT). He has appeared in more than 80 independent and commercial films and currently stars in the Showtime series The Good Lord Bird, based on the 2013 novel of the same name by James McBride. Hawke is also an author, whose new novel A Bright Ray of Darkness (Knopf) is due out in early February 2021. Billed as a “blistering story of a young man making his Broadway debut just as his marriage implodes,” it is his first novel in 20 years. He is also an active supporter of the Doe Fund, a charity that strives to break the cycles of homelessness, incarceration, and recidivism by providing holistic services, housing, and work opportunities.
Grammy-winner, Emmy-winner, author, philanthropist, and reggae icon Ziggy Marley will close Saturday’s featured speaker program (1:45–2:15 p.m. CT). Born in Jamaica in 1968, Marley began his music career at the tender age of 10, when he sat in on recording sessions with his father, the legendary Bob Marley. He’d go on to release eight chart-topping albums—and turn his song “I Love You Too” into a children’s picture book of the same name with Akashic, illustrated by Ag Jatkowska. Marley’s latest two children’s books, Music Is in Everything and My Dog Romeo, will be available May 2021, both published by Akashic.
Sunday’s main speaker program begins with the annual ALA President’s Program, which will feature Joy Harjo, the U.S. poet laureate (11 a.m.–12:30 p.m CT). A member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Harjo is the first Native American to be named poet laureate, a post to which she was reappointed this past April. She is the author of nine books of poetry and a memoir, Crazy Brave, which was awarded the PEN USA Literary Award in Creative Nonfiction. She is also an executive editor on When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through: A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry, which features more than 160 poets representing nearly 100 Indigenous nations and was published in August 2020.
Next up, don’t miss legendary actor, lecturer, and activist Cicely Tyson (12:30–1 p.m. CT). At age 95, she is one of the most acclaimed and respected talents in American theater and film history. Among her many accolades, she is the recipient of the NAACP’s highest honor, the Spingarn Award, and was named a Kennedy Center honoree in 2015. The following year, in 2016, President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the nation. Tyson’s memoir, Just as I Am (HarperCollins) comes out in January 2021 and is said to include details about her decades-long friendship with Arthur Mitchell and her love affair with and eight-year marriage to jazz legend Miles Davis.
The featured speaker program closes with NFL player turned author and YouTuber Emmanuel Acho (3:30–4 p.m. CT). In early summer 2020, Acho created the YouTube series Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man. The series quickly went viral and led to a book of the same name—and a partnership with Oprah Winfrey. Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man was published by Flatiron in November, and a young readers edition, Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Boy, will be published by Flatiron in March 2021.
More Programs and Awards
In addition to the Library Marketplace and the great slate of main speakers, the virtual Midwinter Meeting will be packed with educational sessions and awards programs, including updates on the newest research, innovations, and advances in libraries; a slate of interactive author events; live chat and networking opportunities; a new Diversity in Publishing stage; and the always-useful Symposium on the Future of Libraries, which features a strong list of topics and speakers.
And one of the major highlights of every Midwinter Meeting is the announcement of the ALA Youth Media Awards, including the prestigious Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, and Coretta Scott King awards. The Youth Media Awards announcements will take place on Monday at 8 a.m. CT. The program can be streamed online by visiting the ALA’s social media channels, including Facebook and YouTube, or on Twitter, by following hashtag #ALAYMA.
As always, events are subject to change. Check the ALA’s 2021 Midwinter Meeting website for updates.