The American Booksellers Association Winter Institute 2024 officially closed on Wednesday with a keynote from bestselling author and presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, who celebrated the role books and bookstores have played in her life.

In an interview with ABA advocacy associate manager Philomena Polefrone, Kearns Goodwin said the talk was the “maiden speech” for her new book An Unfinished Love Story: A Personal History of the 1960s, due out in April from Simon & Schuster, Kearns Goodwin described indie bookstores as the “anchor” of her career. “I know the fight you are fighting for social justice, and inclusion, and diversity,” Goodwin said, “and I’m proud to stand with you in this fight.”

The author of numerous presidential biographies, including books about Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon B. Johnson, Kearns Goodwin spoke about placing her late husband, Richard (“Dick”) Goodwin, at the center of her new book, recalling how the inspiration for the book emerged from her and her husband in the last years of his life going through some 300 boxes of documents and other memorabilia from his years working in the White House. Goodwin, who died in 2018, was an aide and speechwriter to John F. Kennedy and LBJ, and also served with Robert F. Kennedy as speechwriter. Prompted by Polefrone’s questions, Kearns Goodwin spent 45 minutes spinning tales about JFK and LBJ, and their wives, and their interactions with Goodwin, as well as stories about her own time working for LBJ.

“My husband had crazily saved 300 boxes, which he’d schlepped with us to every house, from basement to barn, to storage, from the 60s, from his career in the ‘60s. He was everywhere in the ‘60s, he was ubiquitous,” she said, noting that Goodwin’s career began with JFK’s presidential campaign in 1960, and that he then worked in the White House for the next eight years, before becoming an anti-war activist and working for RFK. “He was with Bobby when he died. He was everywhere you wanted to be. So, [An Unfinished Love Story] is not just a time capsule of the 60s, it’s really about a person who was at pivotal moments with all of these great characters.”

Kearns Goodwin recounted how Goodwin had refused to unpack his boxes for decades, until one day in 2011, his 80th year. That morning, she recalled, he came downstairs at their home singing “The Corn is as High as an Elephant’s Eye,” from Oklahoma, and told her that it was time for them to sort through the boxes.

“We opened the boxes, chronologically,” she said. “It took years.” Considering that “maybe there’s some things in these boxes that matter, maybe there’s a book here,” the couple spent every weekend going through the contents of the boxes. “It became the last great adventure of our lives," she said, and “it gave him a sense of purpose” while he was battling cancer. “As long as we were working on the boxes,” she said they thought, “We would live together and we would keep laughing.”

After her husband's death, Kearns Goodwin said she wasn’t sure she could finish the project without him. But of all the books she has written, she declared, the book "probably is the book that means the most to me.”

The author said she hopes that “young people will be able to feel galvanized” by the book and feel like they can make a difference in their world by reading it and then talking to their parents and grandparents about the ‘60s, and how young people then effected social change by joining together “in something larger than themselves.” After all, she concluded, history really is “the stories that you tell to people so they remember who you are, so that they can talk about you after you die.”

Winter Institute Closes

Kearns Goodwin's talk came just hours after a raucous ABA community forum during which young booksellers chastised the American Booksellers Board for its not taking a stance on Gaza, and immediately following the traditional Book Industry Charitable (Binc) Foundation’s heads or tails game.

A fundraiser for Binc, this year’s heads or tails game was short but lively as ever. The winner, David Wolff, a bookseller at Content Bookstore in Northfield, Minn. took the mike to disclose that he “improbably” had also won the heads or tails game at WI2023 in Seattle and said the $500 prize he received last year had really helped him, “because I was in a tough place.” Wolff announced that he was donating the $500 he had just won this time to Binc. As the crowd roared their approval, Wolff and Binc development director Kathy Bartson hugged.

Following Kearns Goodwin's presentation, ABA CEO Allison Hill officially concluded WI2024 with the announcement that WI2025 will return to Denver. The 2025 event will be held Feb. 23-26, 2025. The conference was last held in Denver in 2016.