Each year, the Barbara Ballinger Lecture brings an accomplished author to speak in Oak Park. Hosted by the Friends of the Oak Park Public Library, this public event is free, honoring Ms. Ballinger and her 32 years of library service in Oak Park, including 24 years as head librarian.

2014 Presenter: Marilyn Johnson
Friday, Oct. 24, 7 pm to 9 pm, Main Library Veterans Room

Immediately after the author discussion, a book signing and reception will begin in the Main Library Art Gallery. The Book Table will have Johnson's latest title Lives in Ruins available for pre-release purchase at the event.

Best-selling author Marilyn Johnson has a penchant for the unsung people who preserve our cultural memory. Her two previous works are This Book is Overdue!, which upended the notion that librarians are obsolete in our digital age, and The Dead Beat, which is about a golden age of obituary writers in a time when newspapers are dying.

In her latest release, Lives in Ruins (Harper; Nov. 11), Johnson turns her trademark narrative perception and wit to the unglamorous, workaday archeologists who sift through the detritus of the past to explore our own connections with those who came before us—working not only in romantic landscapes like Greece or Machu Picchu, but more often in urban construction sites, forgotten graveyards, and even underwater.

Archaeologists are “irascible and knowledgeable and articulate witnesses to the loss of our cultural memories,” Johnson says. “And I feel the same way toward them as I did toward the subjects of my other books—they are fighting a fight that I wholeheartedly believe is worthwhile and important to all of us….They are on their knees behind a construction fence, studying the way a foundation collapsed or an ancient skeleton crumbled. They are throwing their bodies in front of bulldozers, trying to preserve evidence of our past before it is destroyed. They are deep in uncharted terrain, piecing together the fragments of an unknown or disputed past. They are the ants of history, combing the earth for crumbs of cultural significance that everyone else missed.” Undeterred by meager money, scarce jobs, and often dangerous working conditions, they are motivated by a passion for stories that would otherwise be lost.

2013 Presenter: John Searles

John Searles is the best-selling author of the newly released Help for the Haunted, Boy Still Missing and Strange but True. Born and raised in New England, the son of a truck-driver father and stay-at-home mom, John’s parents used their connections after his high schoolgraduation to get him a job at the nearby Dupont factory, where he gathered parts for various job orders. It didn’t take him long to realize the place wasn’t for him. John set his sights on becoming the first person in his family to attend college. His personal story of becoming a best-selling author makes one truly believe that anything is possible if you put your mind to it — and work very, very hard. Today, John frequently appears as a book critic on NBC’s Today show and CBS’s The Early Show. He is the Editor-at-Large of Cosmopolitan. His essays appear in national publications including The New York Times. John lives in New York City. Photo by Thomas Caruso

2012 Presenter: Louise Erdrich

Louise ErdrichLouise Erdrich is the author of 14 novels as well as volumes of poetry, short stories, children's books, and a memoir of early motherhood. Her novel Love Medicine won the National Book Critics Circle Award. The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse was a finalist for the National Book Award. The Plague of Doves won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Much of her writing draws from the Ojibwe tribe of which she is a part, leading to authentic and beautiful levels of detail. Younger readers will find Erdrich’s Birchbark series appealing. Her latest release, The Round House, is an exquisitely told story of a boy on the cusp of manhood who seeks justice and understanding in the wake of a terrible crime that upends and forever transforms his family. Riveting, suspenseful, and arguably her most accessible novel to date, it won the 2012 National Book Award for fiction. Read more about this prestigious award. Erdrich lives in Minnesota and is the owner of Birchbark Books, an independent bookstore. Photo by Paul Emmel

About Barbara Ballinger

Born in Miami, Oklahoma, Ballinger began her library career with the Oklahoma City Public Library. After graduating from the University of Kansas, she received her chauffeur’s license to drive a bookmobile for the Topeka Public Library. She went on to earn her MSLS degree at the Graduate School of Library Science of the University of Illinois. Ballinger expected to stay in her Oak Park librarian position for only a few years. Instead, she retired after 32 years of library service in Oak Park, including her 24 years as head librarian.

Ballinger led the library during a period of extensive growth and change, a time which saw development of Illinois library resource sharing, the introduction of multiple new technologies, and the overall growth of the library's collection and use. She valued working with civic-minded library boards, dedicated staff members, and the ever supportive Friends.

Today, she enjoys the services of our vibrant library community, one she was instrumental in helping create, and volunteers for The Ernest Hemingway Foundation Archives, now housed in our Main Library.

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