Victoria Christopher Murray, co-author of “The Personal Librarian,” to speak at Ruth Keeler Memorial Library


Author Victoria Christopher Murray. Photography by Jason Frost Photography

Victoria Christopher Murray might be coming around to the idea that she can change the world through her writing. Murray, a Black author, and Marie Benedict, a White historical fiction novelist, are co-authors of “The Personal Librarian,” a book that introduces readers to Belle da Costa Greene, the Black American woman who served as J.P. Morgan’s personal librarian.

“The Personal Librarian” tells the story of how da Costa Greene hid her true identity and passed as White in order to protect her family and her legacy. When Murray and Benedict criss-crossed the country for a book tour promoting the novel, the two found that books like theirs provide safe spaces for people to have meaningful conversations about race.

“We were at a signing in Washington, D.C. and a White gentleman in his 50s or 60s purchased two books,” Murray recalled. “He said, ‘I’m going to read this book with a Black friend. I’m really scared, but I’m up for the challenge.’ I thought that was wonderful.”

In a separate setting, at a women’s book club meeting, a White woman asked Murray what she should call her Black friends. “She would have never just walked up to me or even to a friend to ask that question,” Murray said. “It’s a very fair question, but the book gave her a safe place to land.”

On Thursday, February 2, Murray will lead an online discussion about the book through an author talk hosted by the Ruth Keeler Memorial Library. Murray might cover the fact that “The Personal Librarian” was named a ‘Best Book of the Year’ by NPR, or that it has been optioned by Al Roker’s production company to become a limited series or film. But she might not; despite having published over 30 novels, Murray retains a sense of humility about her work.

“I once heard Denzel Washington say that before every time he went onstage, he was afraid. I realized that that was a certain kind of humility - the kind that always makes you go out and do your best,” Murray said. “I don’t ever take a book or my readers for granted. Every time I write, I’m trying to write the best book I’ve ever written.”

Murray and Benedict are already busy writing their next book, which will continue to explore complicated issues around race. The book talks about how Eleanor Roosevelt pushed her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, to support an anti-lynching bill. Roosevelt reportedly told his wife, ‘I cant be concerned about hundreds of men who get hung every year when I’m trying to change the lives of millions.’

“He needed to get the New Deal through, to put millions back to work,” Murray said. “Congress was going to give him one or the other. Those are great conversations to have. We can have them in the safety of a book.

Victoria Christopher Murray's author talk, hosted by the Ruth Keeler Memorial Library, will take place Thursday, Feb. 2 at 7:00 p.m. Click here to register.

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