Legendary poet rocker Patti Smith was the featured guest at last night’s installment of the Live from the New York Public Library series in Manhattan, and the evening was nothing short of magical. There to promote her new memoir, Just Kids, Smith had a spirited chat with moderator Paul Holdengräber, performed three gorgeous acoustic numbers, and even stuck around afterward to sign books and chat with the sold-out crowd.

During the interview portion, Smith spoke at length about her creative influences, from her visceral childhood reactions to the music of Madama Butterfly and Little Richard, to her lifelong literary attachments to Arthur Rimbaud and William Blake. And when she digressed into a discussion of the allegorical novel The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, she described how she was particularly inspired by the book’s protagonist because he never stopped speaking “the language of enthusiasm” and reminded her to “maintain her radiance” even in the face of the unfathomable grief that she endured during a difficult period in which she lost her best friend, her husband, her band’s pianist, and her brother within a relatively short span.

Smith’s reminiscences also extended to New York City, the setting of her memoir, which focuses on the years she spent there in the 1960s and 70s with her lover and creative co-conspirator, the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Though Holdengräber emphasized how desperately poor the pair were when they were first starting out as kids who met by chance in the big city, Smith characterized the New York of her youth as a “treasure box” overflowing with possibility.

A riveting and inspiring evening, this latest from the Live from the NYPL series is a reminder of what a fantastic resource our city’s venerable flagship library really is. And you can bet I’ll be back on June 7th when John Waters takes the stage.

[Photo by Peter Foley]

 

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