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Vartan Gregorian Helps Celebrate Twain, Melville: D.C.

Carnegie Corporation of New York president Vartan Gregorian admires a photo at the Library of Congress. Photographer: Stephanie Green/Bloomberg
Carnegie Corporation of New York president Vartan Gregorian admires a photo at the Library of Congress. Photographer: Stephanie Green/Bloomberg

Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation of New York, hovered over a rare edition of Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” Monday night at the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress.

The occasion was a reception for the opening of the library’s “Books That Shaped America” exhibition, which showcases 88 works of U.S. literature written between 1751 and 2002.

Fragile copies of “Gone with the Wind,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” and “The Scarlet Letter” sit in glass cases in the second-floor room. More than 2,000 people wandered through the exhibition on its first day.

Librarian of Congress James Billington said that Russian literature is his favorite, but the exhibition’s copy of Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick” holds a special place in his heart. He remembered the impact the work had on him as a college student.

The list of titles was determined by curators and scholars at the Library of Congress, which has an online survey so visitors can weigh in on the list.

Carnegie is the reception’s major sponsor. Gregorian recalled his days as the head of another scholarly institution, the New York Public Library. When he was having a bad day, he said, the sight of hundreds of researchers toiling in the library’s vast reading room would lift his spirits.

Carnegie employees who made the trip from New York such as Jeanne Donofrio, chief of staff and operations, and Patricia Aquino-Macri, an executive assistant, had a laugh seeing “the other Carnegie,” Dale, in the exhibition for his “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

While trading book stories, guests ate short-rib sliders and sausage skewers, and sweets from dessert tables with vibrant floral centerpieces.

The exhibition will remain at the Library of Congress through Sept. 29, and will serve as a preface to the National Book Festival, which runs Sept. 22-23 on the National Mall.

(Stephanie Green is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)

Muse highlights include Ryan Sutton on dining and Jim Pressley on books.

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