On the Importance of Libraries by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray


[Note from Frolic: Today, we’re so excited to welcome authors Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray to the site. They’re talking all things libraries. Take it away!]

In the pages of our book, The Personal Librarian, we hope to impart many things — an homage to the life of the astonishing historical woman Belle da Costa Greene, an unflinching look at the rise in racism after Reconstruction, and the vast legacy Belle left us. But the novel is also a celebration of libraries — the Morgan Library figures as the centerpiece of the story, after all — not only because libraries transformed Belle’s life, but because they utterly transfigured ours. 

Marie Benedict:

I would not be writing these words without libraries — quite literally. In the 1800s, my ancestors made a treacherous voyage to come to this country from an impoverished Ireland. My ancestors and many, many like them supported the family members that came with them and the hungry folks back home by working in mines and mills if they were men and as domestics in the homes of the wealthy if they were women. They were bright but without access to education, and had to accept whatever work was available to them. What they wouldn’t accept, however, was that their families would forever remain in their uneducated status, and they would utilize any opportunity to help them rise. In my particular case, free access to the very first Carnegie Libraries elevated my great-great and great-grandparents so that, one day, their descendants could become doctors and lawyers and professors and teachers and, in one instance, a writer.

Unsurprisingly given my own family history, it was a library that led me to Belle’s tale, to my wondrous partner, sister and friend Victoria, and to the writing of The Personal Librarian. Even though I’d had a love of the past and its hidden narratives since childhood, I was derailed from that passion after college by societal voices encouraging me, a history major, to become a lawyer. From the start, I knew the law didn’t fit, and when it overwhelmed, I would escape to the magical museums and libraries scattered around New York City, the Morgan Library in particular. There, in its crimson and gold, jewel-box interiors, I first learned about Belle da Costa Greene and her crucial role in creating that magnificent institution. Belle stayed with me long after I left the law to uncover historical women through fiction, but it wasn’t until I met Victoria that I felt I could have a hand in sharing Belle’s unforgettable and timely story. Without my ancestors’ early admittance to libraries and without the refuge and inspiration that libraries provided me personally, I would not be sharing the story of Belle da Costa Greene — or any other historical women for that matter — alongside Victoria today.

Victoria Christopher Murray:

I was seven years old when I got my library card and it was my most cherished possession, even better than the best Barbie doll I received. Just walking into the library was like entering another land. I loved the stories that my parents read to me; by the time they turned to the last page, I felt like I had a bunch of new friends. But once I received my library card, it was like getting the keys to my own car. I could take myself to another place without my parents having to “drive” me. I could choose the books myself and go on trips to places I’d never imagined. I loved reading at the library even more than taking the books home because the environment, with the fresh smell of books and the hushed sounds, became part of the adventure.

My weekly visits to the library were what unleashed the writing gift that had been simmering inside of me. Back in those days, we were only allowed to check out two books at a time, but two was never enough for me. I always finished reading both books before my next weekly trip to the library. So what was a seven-year-old avid reader to do? There was only one solution — I had to write my own stories. After all, I needed something to read before the next library visit. 

To this day, passing a library transports me to another time and makes me smile.  Entering a library makes me want to dance…or at least, sit down and read. A library will always be one of my favorite places to be. 

Our shared love and appreciation of libraries made it such a joy for us to write a book about the woman who was, perhaps, one of the most influential librarians of the twentieth century in one of the most spectacular libraries. Learning the intricacies of her life and then strolling through the halls of the Morgan Libraries together, we could almost feel Belle da Costa Greene’s presence and envision her touring us through her institution and collections. We hope this book does justice to the life and legacy of Belle and the many librarians who stand on her shoulders. 

About the Authors:

Victoria Christopher Murray is the Essence bestselling author of the novels Truth Be Told, Joy, and Temptation. Visit her at www.victoriachristophermurray.com. She lives with her family in Inglewood, California.

Marie Benedict is a lawyer with more than ten years’ experience as a litigator at two of the country’s premier law firms, who found her calling unearthing the hidden historical stories of women. Her mission is to excavate from the past the most important, complex and fascinating women of history and bring them into the light of present-day where we can finally perceive the breadth of their contributions as well as the insights they bring to modern day issues. She embarked on a new, thematically connected series of historical novels with THE OTHER EINSTEIN, which tells the tale of Albert Einstein’s first wife, a physicist herself, and the role she might have played in his theories. The next novel in this series is the USA Today bestselling CARNEGIE’S MAID — which released in January of 2018 — and the book that followed is the New York Times bestseller and Barnes & Noble Book Club Pick THE ONLY WOMAN IN THE ROOM, the story of the brilliant inventor Hedy Lamarr, which published in January of 2019. In January of 2020, LADY CLEMENTINE, the story of the incredible Clementine Churchill, was released, and became an international bestseller. Her next novel, the Instant NYTimes and USAToday bestselling THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE, was published on December 29, 2020, and her first co-written book, THE PERSONAL LIBRARIAN, with the talented Victoria Christopher Murray, will be released on June 29, 2021. Writing as Heather Terrell, Marie also published the historical novels The Chrysalis, The Map Thief, and Brigid of Kildare.

The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray, out now!

The remarkable story of J. P. Morgan’s personal librarian, Belle da Costa Greene, the Black American woman who was forced to hide her true identity and pass as white to leave a lasting legacy that enriched our nation, from New York Times bestselling author Marie Benedict, and acclaimed author Victoria Christopher Murray.

In her twenties, Belle da Costa Greene is hired by J. P. Morgan to curate a collection of rare manuscripts, books, and artwork for his newly built Pierpont Morgan Library. Belle becomes a fixture in New York City society and one of the most powerful people in the art and book world, known for her impeccable taste and shrewd negotiating for critical works as she helps create a world-class collection.

But Belle has a secret, one she must protect at all costs. She was born not Belle da Costa Greene but Belle Marion Greener. She is the daughter of Richard Greener, the first Black graduate of Harvard and a well-known advocate for equality. Belle’s complexion isn’t dark because of her alleged Portuguese heritage that lets her pass as white—her complexion is dark because she is African American.

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