Jennifer Frist and Kate Ezell bring high octane glamour and intellect to this year’s Literary Award Gala on November 14th supporting the Nashville Public Library Foundation and honoring local luminary Jon Meacham. You know what I’m talking about! Each of these ladies could take a turn on the runway after running a meeting in the boardroom. Jennifer’s still on the go with three kids ages 11, 13, and 15 at home, while Kate’s three have launched beautifully and well. Both women have been deeply committed to a variety of Nashville nonprofits over the years, and they’ve enjoyed devoting their energy for the last year to the Literary Award Gala.
Today, they answered a few questions for Bacon.
Where did you grow up? Did you go to the library as a child?
Jennifer: I grew up here in Nashville and very vividly remember going to the Green Hills library with my library card and checking out books. It was a wonderful experience and I always looked forward to it.
Kate: I grew up in uptown New Orleans, one of two daughters with 9 years between us. I was effectively an only child, which meant that I had to learn early to amuse myself. I remember fondly being allowed, as a young girl, to walk or take the streetcar or bike to the Milton H. Latter Public Library on St. Charles Avenue by myself. There were gorgeous spaces at the library where we were welcome to sit and read, so that I did and loved it.
Did you take your own children to the library?
Jennifer: My children love going to bookstores, libraries, McKay’s used bookstore, the school library, old book shops and checking out books. Even when we are out of town.
Kate: Yes, yes, I did take my children to the library for Story Hour and to see the Tichenor Puppet Shows!
What were some of your favorite books as a kid or teen?
Jennifer: The earliest novel I remember reading was Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. I was in 5th grade and I remember it really stuck with me. I felt like it was the first time I realized I could really learn something about life and relationships from a book rather than just being entertained by the words or pictures on the page. It was also the first time I remember seeking out other titles by the same author after finishing the first one.
Kate: I remember going through the entire Nancy Drew series one summer on a wharf in Pass Christian, Mississippi. And in 6th grade, I loved reading Greek mythology. Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl, Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo come to mind. I was lucky to have been born into a fortunate family situation and it was through books that I first became aware of life’s challenges, complexities, injustice, and despairs. John Hersey’s Hiroshima was a high school marker.
Did you ever read books you weren’t supposed to?
Jennifer: Are there any books that shouldn’t be read? I really believe we can learn something from everything we encounter, even if it’s learning what you don’t enjoy. I make myself finish every book I pick up (which can take a long time for some), but I always want to see how it ends.
Kate: If I did, I’ve repressed the memory so that I can say that I didn’t. It was not because I had super permissive parents so it must be that repression thing!
What are some of your favorite books as an adult?
Jennifer: I think you enjoy different books that speak to you at different stages in your life based on your current circumstances and experiences. But it is always interesting to see what stories stick with you. It was a wonderful and unexpected surprise when I read Mrs. Darcy and the Blue Eyed Stranger by Lee Smith. I was not aware that it was a collection of short stories when I picked up the book – wonderful story-telling with rich characters that leave you wanting to know more and more about their lives. That book lead me to try another great short-story writer, Alice Munro, who may be one of my favorite authors.
Kate: Trying to think back to books that I loved reading through time, I just walked into our library to see what books are on the shelves: Colleen McCullough’s romantic epic story The Thornbirds; Jacqueline Weld’s cultural history of the intersection of art, politics and wealth in Peggy; David Halberstam’s The Best & The Brightest; and as a University of Virginia “double Hoo” (undergraduate and graduate business school), I have to include our own Jon Meacham’s Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power. Then there’s Thornton Wilder’s Our Town which my father always said was a must-read growing up; Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man made a huge impact on me years ago; and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Ernest, both of which I loved.
Is childhood or adulthood more fun and why?
Jennifer: Gosh that is a loaded question. Childhood is more a fanciful experience that is more spontaneous and “in the moment.” And although childhood has its own set of stresses, as we age, life responsibilities cause us to have to be more of a structure to our routines, so less time for spontaneous types of encounters. I also think we get more chicken as we age. But being an adult and crafting your own experience in the world does have its advantages too.
Kate: That’s an easy one. I loved growing up in New Orleans and then loved living in the different places that school, career, and life took me. Nothing can beat the joy of watching my own children do those same things and make those same choices, so I am all in on adulthood.
What’s been the best part of planning the Literary Award Gala? Most unexpected?
Jennifer: I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to work with Kate and the entire team at the NPLF. What an amazing group of women. I think the ease at which everything came together was a surprise.
Kate: That’s hard to say because the entire process has really been a joy. Jennifer has been a great partner in the work. On top of that, everyone with whom we’ve worked at the Library, the board, the staff and the vendors, is aligned. Our incredible libraries are led and managed by incredible people. I did not realize how aligned Jennifer and I would be in our choices and decision-making style. That’s made it easy. We hope those who are coming to the events around the Literary Award are as pleased as are we with the plans to celebrate Jon.
What brings you contentment?
Kate: I like being involved in projects and work that positively impact my family and our city.
What makes you crazy?
Kate: If I only get one answer, I have to say that I am made most crazy by missed opportunity.
What are you reading right now?
Jennifer: I was reading A Spool of Blue Thread (Anne Tyler) but cannot find my iPad so have not been able to finish it this week! Anyone seen it?
Kate: Most of what I read these days relates to my involvement in improving quality public education in our city. And that can take you to other issues that I like to read and learn about so I am midway through…David Brooks’ The Road To Character, The Starfish & the Spider by Ori Brafman & Rod Beckstrom (the power of leaderless organizations), and The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools by Dale Russokoff (the story of the Zuckerbergs’ $100 million investment in New Jersey schools). There’s just not enough time to read…maybe that’s a better answer to the “what makes you crazy” question!
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Jon Meacham will receive the 2015 Literary Award on Saturday night at the Gala. The Award was established in 2004 “to recognize distinguished authors and other individuals for their contributions to the world of books and reading. Proceeds from the Gala fund the multiple endeavors of the Nashville Public Library Foundation, including the preschool literacy program Bringing Books to Life!, several after-school programs for at-risk youth, and the Summer Concert Series.
Each year the award brings an outstanding individual to Nashville to honor his or her achievements, to benefit the library and to promote books, literacy and reading. Presented at the annual Gala, previous recipients include David Halberstam (2004), David McCullough (2005), John Updike (2006), Ann Patchett (2007), John Irving (2008), Doris Kearns Goodwin (2009), Billy Collins (2010), John McPhee (2011), Margaret Atwood (2012), Robert K. Massie (2013) and Scott Turow (2014).” (from NPLF.org.)
Jon’s most recent book – to be released today! – is Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush. From his website: “Destiny and Power charts the thoughts, decisions, and emotions of a modern president who may have been the last of his kind. This is the human story of a man who was, like the nation he led, at once noble and flawed.”
You can hear Jon speak Saturday night at the Gala or on December 6th at the Library in conversation with Tim McGraw as part of the Salon@615 series. Advance tickets for the Meacham/McGraw conversation are available beginning November 23d.