• Blackstone's CEO focuses on New York Public Library renovation
  • Waldron, Kojima, Steinem join for dinner of gravlax, artichoke

On the eve of his 20th wedding anniversary, Steve Schwarzman was at the New York Public Library’s annual gala, keeping his actual anniversary plans on Tuesday a secret.

Christine and Steve Schwarzman
Christine and Steve Schwarzman
Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Regarding the library building on Fifth Avenue bearing his name, he was more of an open book: "This is one of the great research libraries of the world," Schwarzman said of the repository for such rarities as George Washington’s original Farewell Address and the papers of Truman Capote.

Not decked out for the holidays: The New York Public Library the night of its annual gala.
Not decked out for the holidays: The New York Public Library the night of its annual gala.
Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

"It’s a physically beautiful facility and it’s open to everybody," Schwarzman added, noting that a renovation by the Dutch firm Mecanoo will add 40 percent more space for the public’s use. "It’s clearly providing an extremely important service, particularly for lower-income and middle-income people."

John Waldron and Amanda Waldron
John Waldron and Amanda Waldron
Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

The building looked particularly pretty Monday night with candles on the main steps greeting guests John Waldron, Donald Newhouse, Howard Milstein, Chris Kojima and Boaz Weinstein. Nancy Jarecki wore a Kansas City Royals jersey over her outfit in honor of their World Series win.

Underdogs, Workhorses

Still, as waiters in white jackets passed stuffed mushrooms, it was hard not to notice the gap between the library’s ardent donors and the users that rely on it. The difference wasn’t lost on James Tisch and Elyse Newhouse, who said the underdogs and workhorses of the New York Public Library system are the branch libraries in the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island.

Donald Newhouse, Elyse Newhouse and Michael Newhouse of the family that owns Advance Publications
Donald Newhouse, Elyse Newhouse and Michael Newhouse of the family that owns Advance Publications
Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg
Merryl and James Tisch
Merryl and James Tisch
Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

"I love them all equally, like my children," Tisch said. Newhouse listed story time, homework help and English classes for immigrants as some of the ways the branches serve their communities.

Usage is at an all time high, said Tony Marx, the library’s president and chief executive officer. That’s “just the opposite of what people would predict in an Internet age," Schwarzman observed before taking his wife’s arm to escort her from Astor Hall, on the first floor, to the Edna Barnes Salomon Room on the third floor.

Nancy Jarecki
Nancy Jarecki
Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Here, if Schwarzman chose, he could bring his laptop to catch up on the Republican debate he missed last week because of a business trip to Korea. The room provides wireless Internet access -- when it’s not set for a gala supper. This one featured artichoke with a cup of melted butter and passed plates of gravlax, chicken and short ribs.

Fleming, Wolfe

Schwarzman dined alongside some giant moss-covered urns, nearby Renee Fleming, Tom Wolfe and John Wray, whose latest novel, “The Lost Time Accidents," scheduled for release in February, is about a man exiled from the flow of time.

Five of the guests wore gold medals on red ribbons designating their distinction as 2015 Library Lions, among them Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard, author of the best-selling "My Struggle." The multivolume work is a detailed memoir of the author’s mostly ordinary life.

Karl Ove Knausgaard, author of 'My Struggle'
Karl Ove Knausgaard, author of 'My Struggle'
Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Knausgaard said his mother took him to the small, local library in Arenda with its not very appealing “yellowish carpet" to find reading material more suitable than the comic books he favored. It became “the place where I met the world," Knausgaard said. “I read everything, and I remember the librarian: if you returned the book late, she’d be hard on you." One of his most meaningful discoveries: "When I was 10 -- Ursula Le Guin’s ‘A Wizard of Earthsea.’"

Dramatist Alan Bennett recalled a once-a-week visit to the his library, “a rather grand Art Nouveau building in Leeds.” He grew to love “the William books," a popular English series by Richmal Crompton.

Censorship Fight

“William is a very nasty schoolboy with a gang," said Alex Jennings, the actor who plays Bennett in the new film "The Lady in the Van." Sony Pictures Classics will release the movie in January after a limited December run in New York and Los Angeles, Michael Barker, the company’s co-founder, said.

Gloria Steinem said her library growing up in Toledo, Ohio, was four rooms. More recently she’s become an admirer of the American Library Association for taking up the fight against censorship nationally.

New York Public Library's new limited-edition tote, $195
New York Public Library's new limited-edition tote, $195
Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Maira Kalman and Judith Jamison were also Library Lions, all of whom ended the evening perched at small tables signing books for guests. The library offered a paper bag to take the books home in. There was also a $195 tote bag on display featuring some text from a Raymond Pettibon image, "Good prose is of no harm." Only 400 were made and they’re available at the New York Public Library store starting today.

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