Message from the Center: Fran Lebowitz

This summer when my husband was visiting family in Kansas, I got a text from him with this picture.

“Look,” he wrote, “Fran Lebowitz in Kansas!”

“Wow,” I wrote back, “Where are you?”

“I’m in a cool bookstore, and they have good iced coffee!”

My brain had never put the words, “Fran Lebowitz,” “Kansas” and “good iced coffee” in the same sentence. I looked more closely at the picture.

“Think before you speak. Read before you think.”
—Fran Lebowitz

The words were hand painted on what looked like old newsprint, the edges were curling, it was torn, but somebody had cared enough to frame it, and hang it on a wall. Being a native New Yorker (something I share with Fran), I will admit to having a few preconceived notions about what I think people are reading and thinking in other parts of the country. So, this was a bit of a surprise. It looked like the kind of thing you would see in San Francisco, or in downtown New York, but not in a small town in the middle of Kansas.

I texted back, “Who, in Kansas, even knows who Fran Lebowitz is?” Ooops. My cultural bias was raging. Think before you speak. Read before you think.

The woman who said these words has over 10,000 books in her apartment, and has read many more. For 60 plus years Fran Lebowitz has been thinking and reading. She has been called a literary icon, a social critic, a New York snob, a big mouth, a wit, a curmudgeon, a genius, a satirist and the heir to Dorothy Parker. She is all of these things, and none of these things. But she is a reader. She believes in books, printed on paper. The kind with pages that you turn, and fold, and write in the margins, and spill iced coffee on, and give to a friend, or pile in stacks or cram into crowded bookshelves, desks, nightstands. In the essay, Fran Lebowitz On Reading, she writes:

I would rather read than have any kind of real life, like working, or being responsible. Reading prepares you for other reading, and possibly for writing…All the things that I never did because I was reading, so what? If someone said to me, how did you spend your life? I’d have to say, lying on the sofa reading.

Books are our crucial connectors — whether in libraries, archives, classrooms, or small, scruffy bookstores in the middle of Kansas. I failed to imagine that someone in a tiny town could love what I love, value what I value, or—gasp—read what I read. Think before you speak. Read before you think. Sometimes we need our great readers to remind us to think differently.

—Meryl Friedman
Director of Education & Special Initiatives