Sharing the Light with Elizabeth Alexander
“Everybody should have a copy” said Alexander promptly when I pursed my lips and asked her to sign an envelop since all the copies of her book were sold.
I was at the NYPL Live event in the Schwarzman *NYPL building for a discussion of two New York Times bestsellers, The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander and Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. The Light of the World was on my reading list for the past four months. This book was Alexander’s first attempt at publishing a memoir in prose. She is predominantly known as a poet and her work American Sublime was one of the finalists for Pulitzer Prize in 2005.
Gawande and Alexander posed discerning questions to each other throughout the discussion that brought to light stories about living well, death and coping with loss. Alexander with her superlative reading skills and warm disposition answered them with the poise of a great orator. When Gawande asked her, “Why prose?” She said that she was a fan of the condensed form and the memoir was in the form of a “poet’s prose.” She thought of poems as “making music with words on a page — putting it all in a pristine space.”
Both the authors had agreed to sign their books after the session. My husband waited in line to buy a copy of The Light of the World while I waited in queue to get books signed. Unfortunately, by the time my husband reached the counter, the last copy was sold. I decided to go to the author and ask her to sign an envelop that I thought I could tear and paste in the copy that I would later purchase.
When I reached her and told her about all the copies being sold, she did something unimaginable. She had a hardcover copy that was given to her by the NYPL for reading and reference during the discussion. She picked up the book and started taking off the sticky notes and said, “Everybody should have a copy. You know what… I am going to give you this.” She made it out to ‘Shefali and Gaurav’ and handed it to me.
By a simple gesture the book was now priceless. She shared with me at this moment a bit of the light she had within her. Elizabeth Alexander read from it. Atul Gawande read from it. Now, I will too!
*New York Public Library