Rosamond Gifford Lecture Series

FOCL History by Suzanne McAuliffe

The Friends of the Central Library, also referred to as FOCL, was launched at a press conference in 1993 by a group of OCPL trustees, staff and library users led by OCPL trustee Caryl Frawley. Organizing and fund development followed and in 1995 a fundraising event to secure extra revenue for the library’s cash-strapped programs was being sought. The president of FOCL, Eileen Kelliher and Central Library Director Sari Feldman, inspired by successful lecture series in other places, including those offered by Rochester Arts and Lectures, and submitted a grant to the Rosamond Gifford Charitable Corporation for a Famous Writers’ Lecture Series.

The grant was announced in June of 1995 and the premier season of the Rosamond Gifford Lecture Series was launched (1995-1996). Six award winning authors drew enthusiastic audiences and the series has been doing just that for the last 18 years. Primarily through the popularity of the lecture series, FOCL has advocated for OCPL and raised and donated over $600,000 for library materials and library programs at the Central Library.

Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky said, “The Syracuse Series is nationally known and considered in literary circles to be ‘like playing The Palace’.” Acclaimed as the most popular and successful library lecture series of its kind in the United States, FOCL is proud to enter its 21st season by hosting an exciting line up of authors. Author Carlos Fuentes’ testimonial sums it up,

“The word is out among authors- you must go to Syracuse. Syracuse has an international reputation.” Poets Laureate, recipients of Pulitzer Prizes, winners of National Book Awards, Nobel Prizes, PEN/Faulkner Awards, O’Henry Prizes, and Caldecott, Newberry and Coretta Scott King Awards have all been here. Perhaps you were, too – when Alexander McCall Smith, hidden inside a canvas cart, was wheeled to center stage and nimbly climbed out, flipping the tartans of his Scottish regalia. Or maybe you enjoyed Puzzlemaster, Will Shortz, and his clever device for audience participation? Were you in the audience for Lisa See’s story about her grandfather’s lingerie business – when, to her chagrin, she paused and asked the interpreter exactly how one gestures the sign for a very brief style of women’s underwear? Her astonishment at its graphic depiction in sign language was priceless and it brought down the house. Seamus Heaney read aloud his poem “Digging”. David Halberstam informed us. Khaled Hosseini brought a hush to the crowd with his elegant presence. Dave Barry presented documentary proof of exploding pigs. Neil DeGrasse Tyson opened our eyes to the cosmos.

FOCL is thankful for the enthusiasm of our audiences (whose attendance makes quite an impression on the authors) and we invite you back to be in the presence of writers who surprise us, challenge us, and lighten our hearts. We especially thank our loyal subscribers, patrons, and sponsors for their reliable, continued support of this lecture series which, in turn, profits the OCPL and enriches our Syracuse community.