Paris has always attracted great writers. They come seeking inspiration and weave the city into the tapestry of their stories. But Paris is also a great city for readers. Even with the closing of some beloved bookstores, a rich literary community thrives here, and at its center lies the American Library in Paris (ALP).
Founded in 1920 with a core collection of books donated by Americans during World War I, the library’s early supporters included such renowned American writers living in Paris as Edith Wharton, Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. Since then, ALP has grown to be the largest English-language lending library on the European continent, with over 120,000 items (including books, music, videos and magazines) and more than 2000 members from all over the world.
But what non-members may not know is that the library is much more than a place to read and study – although that part is already pretty impressive. When lending hours are over, the library opens its doors to members and non-members alike, hosting a series of over 200 cultural events per year for children and adults, many of which are entirely free.
Programs Manager Grant Rosenberg and External Relations Manager Pauline Lemasson oversee a wide range of panels, lectures and readings featuring authors such as Elaine Sciolino, Mo Willems and Ta-Nehisi Coates.
“We try to keep our pulse on the literary and cultural life of Paris,” Lemasson explained, “always tying it back to books and our collections.”
The library’s blog regularly features the staffs’ picks of Paris events, with recommended readings to go along with them, and the panels often reflect current events in France. As a follow-up to the COP21 environmental conference, the library recently organized a panel discussion about what concerned citizens can do next. It helps of course that Paris is a prime destination for travelling writers, who often reach out to the library themselves, eager to participate in the programming.
This mutually supportive relationship between the library and authors has been bolstered by two fairly recent developments, the ALP Visiting Fellowship and the annual Book Award. The Visiting Fellowship, awarded in the fall and spring, offers writers and researchers an opportunity to pursue a creative project in Paris for a month or longer while participating actively in the life of the library. The annual Book Award honors the most distinguished book of the year written in English about France or the French-American encounter (details can be found on the ALP website).
The library also offers a wealth of stimulating activities and events for children and teens, a group that is often under served when it comes to extra-curriculum in Paris. In addition to lap-sits, story hours, and holiday parties, Children’s and Young Adults’ Services Manager Celeste Rhoads and her dedicated staff have populated the calendar with Teen Nights, Movie Nights and creative workshops (plus, there are snacks!) 12-18 year olds can take part in the film club, organized by Paris-based teacher and filmmaker, Clarence Tokley, or the Teen Writing Group, facilitated by Rhoads.
The recently formed “Dangerous Words” book club hopes to introduce teen readers to banned and controversial books. “We want the library to be a safe space for teens to discover books they might not find elsewhere and to express themselves creatively,” Rhoads noted. Other popular activities include the annual spelling bee, the Mock Caldecott (where youngsters vote for their favorite picture books) and the Young Authors Fiction Festival, a contest for budding writers from kindergarten through 12th grade.
And like its patrons, ALP is always striving to improve itself. Charles Trueheart, the dynamic director of the library, recently announced that it will be closed from mid-May to mid-August for renovations, including new lounges, a refurnished reading room and a more program space on the lower level. During renovations, the online resources will still be available and the adult and children’s programming will continue at an off-site location.
So adults, teens and kids alike, hurry down and discover your local Paris library – which also happens to be an international hub of world-class art, culture and literature. Most of all, the American Library in Paris is a warm and welcoming community for book-loving expats and visitors to call home.
American Library in Paris
Address: 10 rue du Général Camou, 75007 Paris
TEL: +33 (0)1 53 59 12 60