2018: Denise Kiernan Speaks of History and Legacy


“I can’t do what I do without libraries.”

This year’s Carnegie Circle dinner featured a book about history, but emphasized the future as much as the past.

The annual dinner, presented by Bank of America and supported by Foundation For The Carolinas, is an opportunity for the Library Foundation to recognize and thank donors who invest $1,000 or more annually in the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. It was held on March 5 at Foundation For The Carolinas, where a crowd of nearly 150 Library supporters mingled, dined, and heard remarks from New York Times bestselling author Denise Kiernan.

Denise spoke with humor and deep appreciation for the libraries in which she researched The Last Castle, her book about Asheville’s Biltmore House and the Vanderbilt family. “I literally can’t do what I do without libraries. They are a nonstop resource for communities.”

Her book is narrative non-fiction, with an emphasis on the narrative. Denise sees history as a story through which to examine the surrounding context, never a continuum of facts and dates. The Last Castle tells the story of one house and one family, and she uses the details of that story as a means to explore the American experience of the time.

She told of George and Edith Vanderbilt’s family and of resilience, as their story – and their house – straddled the gilded age and the progressive era.  And she spoke of their philanthropy, their investments in Asheville and the community they embraced.

Beneath it all, her message was about the Vanderbilt legacy, and all of our legacies. The nation’s largest house was one of the last great works for architect Richard Morris Hunt and landscape designer Frederick Law Olmstead, and has become an international destination. Just as important as the structure is what the Vanderbilts didn’t build. They preserved the surrounding land that became Pisgah National Forest for public recreation, and established the nation’s first school of forestry to better understand conservation for the generations to come.

Denise Kiernan left us with a larger question about legacy. What are we doing while we’re here? Are we leaving this place better than we found it?

Our Libraries do.

About the Carnegie Circle

The Carnegie Circle recognizes and celebrates a special group of Library supporters whose annual gifts of $1,000 or more create a community where reading, learning and imagination thrive. Since 2013, Carnegie Circle membership has grown 105% which reflects our community’s generosity and commitment to the belief that free and open access to information can change lives.

The Carnegie Circle also honors and extends the rich legacy of philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who donated funds to help build more than 2,500 libraries around the world, including a $25,000 grant in 1901 to help build a new library in Charlotte, North Carolina. We can’t think of a better way to recognize those individuals, businesses, and foundations who demonstrate similar philanthropic leadership to support the future of our Library in the 21st century.

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